Protest against arrest of draft dodgers turns violent

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators gather outside prison to support yeshiva students who failed to answer draft summons

An Ultra Orthodox boy is arrested during a large protest outside the military prison, south of Haifa December 9, 2013. (photo credit: Avishag Shaar Yeshuv/Flash 90)
An Ultra Orthodox boy is arrested during a large protest outside the military prison, south of Haifa December 9, 2013. (photo credit: Avishag Shaar Yeshuv/Flash 90)

Two police officers were lightly injured, and one man was arrested, when violence broke out in front of a military prison during a protest by ultra-Orthodox Jews Monday against the arrest and jailing of two draft dodgers.

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox men gathered to demonstrate against the imprisonment of two yeshiva students, arrested last week for failing to comply with a summons to appear at the military enlistment office.

Among the demonstrators were members of anti-Zionist groups Eda Haredit and Toldot Aharon, including their respective chief rabbis.

If the choice was between “becoming secular” by being forced into the IDF or jumping off a roof, said one man, “it’s better to jump off a roof.”

A noose was set up in a nearby tree, and an elderly demonstrator posed with the rope around his neck, symbolizing that it was better to die than obey the draft order.

Police were called in to disperse the protesters after they began throwing stones, according to police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld.

The two arrests are seemingly the first since a law granting exemptions to yeshiva students was declared unconstitutional over a year ago.

Until July 2012, the Tal Law granted blanket de-facto exemptions from IDF service to Israel’s ultra-Orthodox. The High Court of Justice struck down the Tal Law in February 2012, giving the Knesset until August 2012 to draft alternative legislation, which it was unable to do. There is currently no law governing the draft of the ultra-Orthodox beyond the 1949 Defense Service Law.

Since alternative legislation is forthcoming, both the ultra-Orthodox and the IDF have largely adhered to the status quo. The yeshiva students have mostly continued to answer the army’s summonses and the army has allowed them to return to their studies, as was common when the Tal Law was in existence.

However, prominent ultra-Orthodox leader Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach has reportedly instructed his followers to cease cooperating with the army and to refuse to respond to all army draft notices.

The first arrest came December 1, when a student from a yeshiva in Petah Tikva was arrested at his home in Kiryat Malachi. Both men were sentenced to two weeks in prison, according to the IDF.

Police dispersed ultra-Orthodox protesters in Ramat Beit Shemesh Sunday after they blocked traffic.

And last Wednesday, over 700 people — including Auerbach — rallied outside the prison in Atlit, south of Haifa. They held aloft signs reading “Down with religious persecution in Israel” and “The enlistment — a plot to dismantle the holy yeshivot,” and sang and danced to Hanukkah songs.

Auerbach met briefly with one of the students and offered him words of encouragement.

A new, government-sponsored bill that would regulate the draft passed its first reading in the Knesset on July 23. The bill would greatly reduce the number of deferments given to yeshiva students and is expected to radically increase Haredi enlistment. The proposed legislation is currently undergoing revision, and will be up for a second and third Knesset reading at a later date.

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