Group of ultra-Orthodox Jews marks Independence Day by burning Israeli flag
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Group of ultra-Orthodox Jews marks Independence Day by burning Israeli flag

TV footage shows men and boys from Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood watching as flag is waved back and forth in bonfire

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Ultra-orthodox Jews in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim burn an Israeli flag at the end of the country‘s 69th Independence Day, May 2, 2017. (Channel 10 screenshot.)
Ultra-orthodox Jews in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim burn an Israeli flag at the end of the country‘s 69th Independence Day, May 2, 2017. (Channel 10 screenshot.)

As Israelis all over the country wrapped up their celebrations of Israel’s 69th Independence Day on Tuesday, a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem set fire to an Israeli flag.

Video footage aired by Channel 10 TV showed a group of men and boys from Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood standing in a circle around a bonfire, as one man waved a large, burning flag backwards and forwards in the flames.

Some segments of ultra-Orthodox society refuse to recognize the State of Israel and oppose Zionism, because of their belief that the establishment of a Jewish state should only come after the arrival of the Jewish Messiah.

Some also burn Israeli flags during the holiday of Lag B’Omer, the traditional date of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a first-century CE sage, marked with celebration, bonfires and feasts.

Many Ultra-Orthodox Jews do not serve in the Israeli army and run their own educational system, but receive a variety of grants from the government. Ultra-Orthodox men tend to study in religious seminaries, while their wives work.

In March last year, lawmaker Nava Boker (Likud) proposed a bill — understood to be aimed at Palestinian protesters — to hand out harsher punishments for anyone desecrating the Israeli flag. In July the bill became law.

Knesset Member Nava Boker, June 14, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Knesset Member Nava Boker, June 14, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“Perhaps jail is not a severe enough punishment. Perhaps we should make a law that will revoke citizenship from those who degrade the flag. Someone who does not know how to respect the state has no reason to benefit from the privileges [of citizenship],” Boker posted on Facebook at the time.

The legislation currently allows for imprisonment for up to three years, or a fine of up to NIS 50,000 ($13,000). Those convicted of the crime could also have a slew of rights revoked, including access to national health care and unemployment benefits and even higher education scholarships.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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