13 Haredim charged for anti-draft rioting

Jerusalem police release 4 of 15 ultra-Orthodox men arrested during Thursday’s nationwide anti-draft demonstrations

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox clash with Israeli police during a protest in Jerusalem on February 6, 2014, following the arrest of a Haredi draft-dodger. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox clash with Israeli police during a protest in Jerusalem on February 6, 2014, following the arrest of a Haredi draft-dodger. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Thirteen ultra-Orthodox protesters were indicted Friday after their arrest during anti-draft riots Thursday in Ashdod.

The men were charged with rioting, interfering with law enforcement, and demonstrating without a permit, Israel Radio reported.

In Jerusalem, where similar riots took place Thursday, police released 4 of 15 Haredi men who were arrested.

The protests Thursday were sparked by the arrest of an ultra-Orthodox man who refused to enlist in the IDF, as required by law. Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets demanding the young man’s immediate release from army prison, and calling on the government to reinstate subsidies to religious seminaries, which were frozen earlier this week by Finance Minister Yair Lapid.

Haredi demonstrators in the capital clashed with police on the light-rail suspension bridge near the city’s western entrance. According to authorities, several protesters attempted to break through the police security buffer and to throw bottles and firecrackers at security personnel and passersby. Fifteen demonstrators were arrested. A number of main roads in the capital were blocked as a result of the protests, causing heavy traffic.

“The Haredim [ultra-Orthodox Jews] will never enlist!” an enraged protester filmed by Channel 2 News was overheard saying.

“We’ve managed to overcome the Inquisitions, we overcame Hitler, and we will now overcome the state,” he cried.

In the background, several demonstrators could be heard calling the policemen at the site “Nazis.”

The demonstrations were largely organized by a radical Lithuanian Haredi group known as “the Jerusalem branch,” Ynet reported.

In a different incident, about one hundred protesters clashed with police at the northern entrance to Ashdod, with 13 people arrested after allegedly attempting to assault a policeman. A police car was reported to have been set on fire by protesters as well.

Two demonstrators were treated on the spot for mild injuries.

Hundred of ultra-Orthodox protesters who attempted to block the main highway near Modiin were removed from the area by police. The protesters began praying along the highway shoulders, Walla reported.

Near Bnei Brak, demonstrators blocked the Geha Highway and caused massive traffic jams, Israel Radio reported. Demonstrators also threw a police motorcycle, driver-less, onto the street.

Ultra-orthodox protesters clash with Israeli police, February 06, 2014 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox protesters clash with Israeli police, February 6, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police also reported gatherings of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators near Beit Shemesh.

Overall, nearly 30 demonstrators were arrested in different locations throughout the country and three policeman suffered light injuries, Ynet reported.

Rabbi David Zicherman, one of the organizers of the Jerusalem protests, called on the ultra-Orthodox public to start a civil disobedience movement and stop paying taxes.

“You are pushing us into a corner,” he said of the government. “We will start a war with the State of Israel, and it will burn like wildfire. We, Holocaust survivors, are now encountering a spiritual Holocaust.

“They will fail in their attempt to lead us to annihilation,” he warned. “We shall neither compromise, nor negotiate.”

Earlier this week, Lapid brought to a halt state payments to religious seminaries that are attended by ultra-Orthodox draft dodgers; this took place hours before the cash was due to be paid out.

Lapid ordered the funding to be frozen right after a High Court ruling, which determined that the state should stop making payments to seminaries as part of an ongoing effort to draft ultra-Orthodox men into national service.

MK Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) — who chairs a committee charged with hammering out a bill for the conscription into national service of the ultra-Orthodox community — denied that an agreement had been reached by committee members on a formula for enforcing the eventual law by imposing criminal penalties on those who try to evade their service.

MK Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) in the Israeli parliament on January 15, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)
MK Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) in the Israeli parliament on January 15, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

In an interview with the ultra-Orthodox Kol Hai radio Thursday, Shaked said the committee was still working on a text for the controversial bill that will be acceptable to all parties.

Israeli men and women are usually drafted into the army at the age of 18. However, ultra-Orthodox Israeli men were mostly exempt from army or national service until July 2012, when the Tal Law, under which the exemptions were granted, was declared unconstitutional. The dissolution of the law has forced parliamentarians to draw up new legislation that would conscript ultra-Orthodox and Israeli-Arab men into the military.

According to a report in Yedioth Ahronoth, in 2014 the planned quota is 3,800 men, or about 47.5% of all ultra-Orthodox men eligible for army service. Of that number, 2,300 are to be inducted into the army and 1,500 will do civilian national service. In 2015, that number will rise to 4,500, or 56% of the available manpower — 2,700 of whom will go the army and 1,800 to national service. In 2016, the quotas will aim at 65% of the manpower, with 3,200 to join the army and 2,000 to perform national service.

Ultra-Orthodox men will also have the option to put off their service each year until the age of 24, on condition that the annual quotas are met by other recruits.

However, the thorny issue of how to enforce the quotas with criminal penalties remains undecided.

Ultra-Orthodox rabbis and other community leaders have been pushing back hard against enlistment in the army, which they fear will make it harder for their followers to keep a strict interpretation of Jewish law and will cause spiritually perilous mixing with the secular population.

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