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Police rescue 2 soldiers from hostile ultra-Orthodox group in Jerusalem

Officers scuffle with demonstrators in Haredi neighborhood after locals surround soldiers and several civilians, blocking their exit

Police remove 2 soldiers and several civilians from an ultra-Orthodox crowd in Jerusalem, November 12, 2020. (Screenshot/YouTube)
Police remove 2 soldiers and several civilians from an ultra-Orthodox crowd in Jerusalem, November 12, 2020. (Screenshot/YouTube)

Police extricated two soldiers from an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem on Thursday night after they were surrounded by an antagonistic group of area residents.

Several civilians were with the soldiers, Channel 12 reported. The neighborhood residents were apparently angered by activists at the scene who work to enlist members of the community to the military and police, the report said.

Ynet said the incident centered around a studio where a group was filming a video to encourage ultra-Orthodox enlistment.

Channel 12 said it occurred in the neighborhood of Beit Yisrael, while Walla news said it was in the adjacent area of Mea Shearim in central Jerusalem.

Both reports put the number of demonstrators in the hundreds.

Police said the group encircled the soldiers and prevented them from leaving the area. Officers evacuated the soldiers and the civilians with them and dispersed the crowd.

Footage from the scene showed police jogging down a city street with several civilians, pursued by angry protesters, who threw several objects at the officers. Police then returned to the scene and scuffled with some area residents.

No soldiers are identifiable in the footage and it wasn’t clear if they were in uniform during the incident.

The incident comes after a period of high tension between ultra-Orthodox Israelis and other parts of the public.

Some ultra-Orthodox groups have widely disobeyed virus restrictions by holding mass events during the High Holiday period in September and October, stoking public anger.

Some schools and yeshivas in the communities opened illegally — including in high-infection areas that were subject to extra virus restrictions — even as most of the education system in the rest of the country was under lockdown to curb the coronavirus outbreak.

Law enforcement struggled to enforce regulations, and in some cases were accused of turning a blind eye to malfeasance.

Many ultra-Orthodox leaders and residents believed their community was being unfairly targeted by the government as some Haredi areas were put under tight lockdowns. Positive test rates among the ultra-Orthodox were substantially higher than among the general population.

Israel in recent weeks has been gradually easing a lockdown that was put in place in September to stymie the surging coronavirus outbreak.

Last month, the hardline Gur Hasidic sect held a demonstration in Arad to protest “the continuous incitement against the ultra-Orthodox public,” hours after an arson incident at a Haredi-owned store in a local shopping center. A police investigation and questioning of a 17-year-old suspect found it was not motivated by anti-Haredi sentiment.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews keep social distance amid concerns over the country’s coronavirus outbreak, during a protest against what they say is incitement against the city and country’s religious population, in the southern Israeli city of Arad, October 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The Arad protest was coordinated with police and demonstrators meticulously adhered to social distancing guidelines.

Haredi enlistment into the military has been a source of longstanding tension between the community and other parts of the public.

The ultra-Orthodox community has historically enjoyed blanket deferrals from the military in favor of religious seminary studies, and many of its members shun military service, which is mandatory for other Jewish Israelis. However, there is opposition to the arrangement from many in the broader population, who want the ultra-Orthodox to help shoulder the burden of defending the country.

The High Court of Justice earlier this month gave the government until February 1 to pass legislation exempting ultra-Orthodox seminary students from mandatory military service or to start drafting them as required by current law, saying no further extensions to a deadline to do so would be granted.

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