Ultra-Orthodox protesters try to disrupt Memorial Day salute in Jerusalem
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Ultra-Orthodox protesters try to disrupt Memorial Day salute in Jerusalem

Police disperse demonstrators at capital’s Kikar Hashabat intersection before nation marks minute of silence for fallen soldiers

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Police on Wednesday in Jerusalem dispersed dozens of extremist ultra-Orthodox demonstrators who they said were planning to disrupt the moment of silence held nationwide during the Memorial Day siren in honor of Israel’s fallen.

Officers deployed at the Kikar Hashabbat intersection moved the protesters out of the road and seized placards they were carrying, police said in a statement.

There were no reports of injuries or arrests.

Hebrew slogans on the signs declared, “A Zionist is not a Jew and a Jew is not a Zionist” as well as the phrase “and Mordechai would not kneel or show respect,” a reference to the biblical Book of Esther, in which Mordechai would not bow down to arch-villain Haman. The phrase is taken as an assertion by anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox that they will not accept the state’s authority.

A placard carried by ultra-Orthodox protesters on Memorial Day. Slogan reads ‘and Mordechai did not kneel or honor.’ (YouTube)

Israel’s annual Memorial Day includes the sounding of air-raid sirens across the country, for a minute on the eve of the memorial day, and again for two minutes on the following morning.

Hadashot TV news reported that ultra-Orthodox activists also circulated a video clip showing a dummy dressed in IDF fatigues being barbecued on a grill.

Scrolling text on the screen declares, “In honor of Memorial Day the ultra-Orthodox remember the Hardakim [a pejorative term for ultra-Orthodox soldiers] who betrayed the Jewish people and sold their souls to Satan.”

There was no indication who had produced the video clip, which also seemed to ridicule Israelis’ traditional Independence Day barbecues.

Ultra-Orthodox Israelis have for decades enjoyed a blanket exemption from army service. Attempts to cater to ultra-Orthodox recruits have met with some success, rising from some 300 ultra-Orthodox enlistees each year a decade ago to some 3,000 last year.

But many ultra-Orthodox soldiers still face harassment, threats, and assault when they go home on leave to ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

Screen capture from video showing a man barbecuing a dummy dressed in the uniform of an IDF soldier. (Hadashot news)

The Jerusalem clash came two days after four policemen were lightly injured as hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews rioted outside the IDF draft office in the capital. The protesters had gathered over rumors of the arrest of a young woman from the Har Nof neighborhood for draft-dodging, the ultra-Orthodox news site Behadrei Haredim reported.

Tensions are high in the ultra-Orthodox population over legislation being pushed by the community’s lawmakers to exempt yeshiva students from compulsory military service. After reaching the age of 18, men must serve for 32 months and women for 24. That bill threatened to bring down the government earlier this month after infighting saw parties issuing competing ultimatums over remaining in the coalition.

A placard carried by ultra-Orthodox protesters on Memorial Day. Slogan reads ‘and do I not hate those who rise up against you? I hate them completely, they are enemies to me.’ (YouTube)

In September, the High Court of Justice threw out a previous law exempting ultra-Orthodox men engaged in religious study from military service, on the grounds that it undermined the principle of equality before the law.

The court suspended its decision for a year to allow for a new arrangement to be put in place, giving the government the option to pass a new law.

The issue of ultra-Orthodox enlistment has been a contentious one in Israel –revolving around a decades-old debate as to whether young ultra-Orthodox men studying in yeshivas should be called up for compulsory military service like the rest of Israel’s Jewish population

While ultra-Orthodox Israelis can still obtain exemptions from enlistment, they are required to report to enlistment offices in order to sign a deferral of service. Some more extreme groups instruct their adherents to not even sign the deferral papers, leading to arrests for draft-dodging.

Protests against the ultra-Orthodox draft have also been held in Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem where demonstrators have often clashed with police, leading to arrests.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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