Ministers blast violence at ultra-Orthodox rally

Ministers blast violence at ultra-Orthodox rally

Deputy finance minister calls protesters’ actions at demonstration against draft law ‘shameful’ and a crossing of ‘all the red lines’

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Israeli police officers confront ultra-Orthodox demonstrators during a protest in front of the army recruitment office in Jerusalem, May 16, 2013. (photo credit: Flash90)
Israeli police officers confront ultra-Orthodox demonstrators during a protest in front of the army recruitment office in Jerusalem, May 16, 2013. (photo credit: Flash90)

Deputy Finance Minister Mickey Levy on Friday slammed ultra-Orthodox demonstrators who took part in violence at a Jerusalem rally Thursday protesting the universal draft law, claiming that their behavior “crossed all the red lines.”

Levy posted on his Facebook page that the injuring of 10 policemen by the protesters was shameful and unacceptable. He further stressed that the government would continue to promote equality in the burden of army service, and would work against extremists who want to “preserve poverty and discrimination.”

On Thursday night, large numbers of ultra-Orthodox Israelis rallied outside the main army recruitment office in Jerusalem to protest government initiatives to draft yeshiva students into the army.

Though the leaderships of the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties did not formally endorse the gathering, it drew an estimated 30,000-40,000 people, organizers said.

As the protests gathered fervor, some demonstrators turned over garbage cans and threw stones and other objects at police and security forces, who formed a human barrier to protect the building. One policeman was moderately injured, and nine others lightly hurt. They received treatment at local area hospitals.

Three demonstrators were also lightly injured as security forces used crowd dispersal methods, including smoke grenades, to counter the violence. Those three were treated at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

Several other police officers and protesters were treated on the spot for very minor injuries.

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich also criticized the demonstrators and the rally’s organizers Friday, vowing to bring rioters to justice.

“Rioting and attacking police officers is shocking,” Aharonovich said following a visit to one of the policemen injured in the protest. “This criminal behavior, illegal protests and attacks on police officers, will not change the government’s strong stance on equality in the burden [of service],” he stressed.

Earlier Friday, the Jerusalem Magistrate Court released, under restrictive conditions, eight ultra-Orthodox demonstrators suspected of disturbing the peace and attacking policemen during the rally. All eight protesters are expected to be indicted later this month.

The universal draft has long been a divisive issue in Israeli society, but ferment hit boiling point in February 2012 when the High Court of Justice ruled as unconstitutional a longstanding law granting sweeping exemptions to yeshiva students.

Since that ruling, several attempts have been made to formulate new legislation for the drafting of ultra-Orthodox men into military and civil service, but without success. The dispute was a major issue in January’s elections, with Yesh Atid and Jewish Home making the imperative for a universal draft a key platform of their successful campaigns, and a requirement for their joining the coalition, excluding Shas and United Torah Judaism from the government. A government committee is currently working on legislation to bring ultra-Orthodox and Arab Israelis into the army and other forms of national service.

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