Dozens of ultra-Orthodox arrested in fresh anti-draft protests

Police clash with demonstrators blocking roads in Bnei Brak, Jerusalem; organizers vow to continue disruptions until call-ups end

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Police carry away ultra-Orthodox Jewish demonstrators as they disperse a protest against army conscription in the city of Bnei Brak, November 20, 2017. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)
Police carry away ultra-Orthodox Jewish demonstrators as they disperse a protest against army conscription in the city of Bnei Brak, November 20, 2017. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

Several hundred ultra-Orthodox demonstrators blocked main roads Monday in the city of Bnei Brak in the continuation of protests against the jailing of military draft dodgers.

Large numbers of police, including mounted officers and water cannon vehicles, clashed with demonstrators who repeatedly regrouped and blocked Hahalutzim and Jabotinsky street in the city, which is known for its large ultra-Orthodox community.

Twenty-eight people were arrested for disorderly behavior, including blocking roads to stop traffic and launching firecrackers at police, authorities said. Two police officers and 12 protesters were injured.

“Israel police stress again that it will not allow violations of the law and shows of violence of any kind and will bring lawbreakers to justice,” police said in a statement. “Police allow the freedom to protest, but not to disrupt public order.”

In Jerusalem, demonstrators gathered outside the capital’s army draft office near an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood and prevented entry or exit from the building, police said.

A horse-mounted police officer disperses ultra-Orthodox Jewish demonstrators during a protest against army conscription in Bnei Brak, on November 20, 2017. (AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI)

The protests came the day after 32 ultra-Orthodox demonstrators were arrested during a salvo of demonstrations held in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Beit Shemesh, and Modiin Illit. Protests were sparked after the Jaffa Military Court on Sunday sentenced 11 ultra-Orthodox draft dodgers to jail sentences ranging from 40 to 90 days.

The Committee to Save the Torah World, which has been responsible for organizing recent demonstrations against the army draft, issued a call for protesters across the country to gather in Bnei Brak. The group is distinct from the Jerusalem Faction extremist group, which had also organized protests in recent months.

The committee said the demonstration was under the “clear instructions” of Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, the leader of the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem, who is adamantly opposed to army service for members of the ultra-Orthodox community.

It also issued a warning, apparently directed at ultra-Orthodox parties who are part of the government coalition.

Israeli security forces carry away an ultra-Orthodox Jewish demonstrator as they disperse a protest against Israeli army conscription in Bnei Brak, a city near Tel Aviv, on November 20, 2017.(AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI)

“The Israeli government should consider the fact that the Haredi Torah-abiding public in Israel is not a party to the selling-out of the Torah world that is being carried out by the representatives of the Haredi public. The entire Torah world will continue to make a racket until the full status quo is resumed with no conditions.”

At issue is a decades-old debate as to whether young ultra-Orthodox men studying at yeshivas should be called up for compulsory military service, like the rest of Israel’s Jewish population. After reaching the age of 18, men must serve for 32 months and women for 24.

Earlier this year, the High Court of Justice struck down a law exempting ultra-Orthodox men engaged in religious study from military service, saying it undermined social equality. The decision raises the possibility that they could be forced into service, a highly contentious proposition with political implications. However, the court suspended its decision for a year to allow for preparations for the new arrangement, giving the government the option to pass a new law.

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