Ultra-Orthodox Jews opposed to Israel’s compulsory military service hung effigies of religious soldiers Monday in a Jerusalem neighborhood, in a move that police denounced as incitement.
A number of effigies of ultra-Orthodox Jews serving in the army were hung from the neck in prominent places in the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood.
One of them had a sign attached to it that read “hardak out,” a derogatory term for ultra-Orthodox Jews who join the army and which sounds similar to the Hebrew word for insect.
There was no claim of responsibility for the dolls, but the Israel Police said in a statement that it took “extremely seriously” any attempt “by religious (ultra-Orthodox) to incite against soldiers.”
A police spokeswoman said that one of the figures was taken to a police laboratory for forensic testing and that police requested the State Attorney’s Office open an investigation for incitement over the incident.
Security forces took several hours to remove the effigies, with large crowds gathering and cheering their failures. Two ultra-Orthodox men were detained and brought in for questioning for trying to interfere with officers and firefighters taking down the dolls, the police spokeswoman said.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan wrote on his Facebook page in response to the incident that those responsible for hanging the dolls are “disgusting people” and “debased criminals.”
“From my perspective this is a red line of incitement,” he wrote, while adding that “I will do everything in order to ensure that the police and the [state] prosecutor will investigate and bring to justice” those responsible.
Military service, two years and eight months for men and two years for women, is compulsory for most Jewish Israelis.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews represent about 10 percent of the Israeli population and live in compliance with a strict interpretation of Jewish laws. Some of them view military service as a source of temptation for young people who then leave the closed world of prayer and religious study.
Last month there were major protests in ultra-Orthodox areas across Israel, with more than 30 people arrested.
The demonstrations were apparently triggered by the arrest of an ultra-Orthodox youth who refused to report at an army recruitment post to enroll in military service.
The ultra-Orthodox are exempt from serving if studying in religious schools known as yeshivas, though the issue is controversial with secular Israelis and attempts have been made to remove the exemption.
Either way they must register at the recruitment office, but some, inspired by rabbis hostile to any cooperation with the Israeli authorities, refuse to and are considered deserters.
On Monday, those who hung the mannequins in Mea Shearim were taking advantage of the Purim festival, which sees participants party and dress up.
Jack, an ultra-Orthodox man, who watched as firemen struggled to reach one of the effigies, said most members of his community did not agree with whoever hung the mannequins.
“But we understand their position and we definitely think the police are overreacting,” said Jack, who did not give his surname.
He explained that many ultra-Orthodox don’t believe that the State of Israel is holy as they are waiting for the return of the messiah.
“So therefore there is no reason to fight for [Israel],” he said.
Purim, which ends later Monday, celebrates the saving of the Jewish people from a king in the ancient Persian empire.