Over 40 arrested in violent ultra-Orthodox anti-draft protests

Police say suspects in Bnei Brak attacked officers, caused ‘public disturbances’; 8 arrested in Jerusalem for blocking light rail

Ultra-Orthodox protesters demonstrate in Bnei Brak against the draft of members of their community to the IDF on October 17, 2017. (Police Spokesperson)
Ultra-Orthodox protesters demonstrate in Bnei Brak against the draft of members of their community to the IDF on October 17, 2017. (Police Spokesperson)

Police arrested 40 people on Tuesday in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak for participating in a violent anti-draft protest sparked by the arrest of two yeshiva students for failing to show up to the Israel Defense Forces draft offices.

Police said the protesters were arrested for attacking officers, “blocking roads and causing public disturbances” in the Tel Aviv suburb.

All but one of the protesters were later released, police said.

Police also arrested eight people in Jerusalem for blocking the light rail as part of the anti-draft protests.

Tuesday’s demonstrations followed similar demonstrations Monday in Bnei Brek in Jerusalem. Twelve people were arrested in those two cities Monday night.

Ultra-Orthodox protesters block roads in Jerusalem as part of anti-draft protests, on October 17, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Video footage of Monday’s protest in Jerusalem showed a female solider being harassed by several dozen ultra-Orthodox boys and men who spit on her while calling her a shiksa, a pejorative Yiddish term for a non-Jewish woman that derives from the Hebrew for “vermin.”

The soldier was seen kicking the protesters as she tried to clear the road.

In a separate incident at the protest in Jerusalem, a police officer pulled a gun on protesters, threatening them. Video footage obtained by Channel 10, shows the officer asking the protesters blocking the road, “Who wants a bullet?”

Ultra-Orthodox protesters have alleged police brutality at previous demonstrations.

Ultra-Orthodox protesters demonstrating in Jerusalem against a court ruling that rejected legislation deferring mandatory conscription into the Israel Defense Forces, September 17, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ahmed Gharbali)

This week’s protests were the latest in a series of demonstrations by ultra-Orthodox protesters over the arrest of members of the community for failing to show up to Israel Defense Forces draft offices.

The latest demonstrations were prompted by the arrest of two yeshiva students, who were arrested on Sunday by police while returning from the Dead Sea, the Ynet news site reported.

Last month, the High Court of Justice struck down a law exempting ultra-Orthodox men engaged in religious study from military service, saying it undermined 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 — which also provides the government with the opportunity to pass a new law.

Ultra-Orthodox political parties, holding key positions in the ruling coalition, are likely to draft new legislation that could seek to override the court ruling and keep the exemption in place.

A sign comparing Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to Joseph Stalin and Kim Jong Un at an ultra-Orthodox anti-IDF draft in Jerusalem. March 28, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The issue is part of a decades-old debate over whether young ultra-Orthodox men studying at yeshivas should undergo 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 must serve for 24.

Ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students have been largely exempt from Israel’s military draft since then-defense minister David Ben-Gurion exempted 400 students from service in 1949 on the grounds that “their studies are their craft.” Exceptional young artists and athletes are often granted exemptions by the Defense Ministry on the grounds that two or three years of military service could hold them back dramatically.

The ultra-Orthodox oppose serving for a variety of reasons, with the most extreme believing a Jewish state is not allowed before the coming of the Messiah. Others argue that study of religious texts is just as important to Israel as military service or that ultra-Orthodox soldiers would be confronted with irreligious behavior.

The court decision drew instant condemnation from ultra-Orthodox leaders and sparked a number of protests opposing the move.

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