Haredi demonstrators block Jerusalem light rail in protest against plans to draft them

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Israeli policemen try to forcibly remove ultra-Orthodox protesters demonstrating against against their planned conscription into the Israeli armed forces, in Jerusalem on March 18, 2024  (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
Israeli policemen try to forcibly remove ultra-Orthodox protesters demonstrating against against their planned conscription into the Israeli armed forces, in Jerusalem on March 18, 2024 (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

Declaring that they would rather die than enlist in the IDF, dozens of ultra-Orthodox men block the tracks of the Jerusalem light rail on Jaffa Street and scuffle with police to protest efforts to end their community’s longtime exemption from military service.

“If you go to the army, you and dogs are equal,” they chant, riffing off of enlistment advocates’ call for “equality of the burden” between Haredi and secular Israelis.

Police later said they had opened the road.

The demonstrators belong to the Jerusalem Faction, an extremist Haredi group numbering some 60,000 members. Considered among the most conservative of Haredi factions, its members regularly demonstrate against the enlistment of yeshiva students.

Last month, members of the group blocked Route 4 near the Haredi city of Bnei Brak while others blocked a light rail route in the nearby city of Petah Tikva.

Haredi men of military age have been able to avoid the draft for decades by enrolling for study in yeshivas and obtaining repeated one-year service deferrals until they reach the age of military exemption.

A law that authorizes this exemption expired in June 2023, and a temporary regulation to extend it is set to expire at the end of March, after which the military will not be authorized to exempt Haredi young men from the draft and will need to start enlisting them.

According to the IDF’s Personnel Directorate, some 66,000 young men from the Haredi community received an exemption from military service over the past year, reportedly an all-time record at a time when the army is facing a significant manpower shortage.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi has called drafting Haredim “the need of the hour.”

Despite this, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly hopes to postpone the enlistment of members of the Haredi community until the beginning of July, while the coalition works to formulate a new conscription law.

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