Police in Jerusalem clashed with hundreds of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators who blocked traffic and disrupted light rail service Wednesday in protest of the arrest of an army draft-dodger from a religious seminary in the capital.
Protesters sat in the road and on the rail tracks at a junction of Jaffa Road near the central bus station and the main traffic entrance to the city, chanting “We will die and not be drafted.”
Police said 30 people were arrested as they tried to clear protesters after declaring the demonstration an illegal gathering.
Traffic in and around the capital was jammed for hours because of the protest.
There have been several large protests against the IDF draft by an extremist sect known as the Jerusalem Faction blocking traffic in Jerusalem and elsewhere in recent years.
According to media reports, ultra-Orthodox community leaders called for the protest after draft-dodging student Yitzhak Aryeh was arrested by police conducting a routine check on Monday night.
Many in the ultra-Orthodox community shun the mandatory military service that applies to most Israelis, and the community has historically enjoyed blanket exemptions from the army in favor of religious seminary studies.
The so-called “Committee for Saving the Torah World,” a branch of the Jerusalem Faction which is spearheading opposition to induction of community members into the army, put out a statement slamming ultra-Orthodox lawmakers for not doing enough to prevent the draft.
“While there are people sitting in the Knesset who call themselves the representatives of the ultra-Orthodox public yet enact laws of destruction and devastation to the Torah world, yeshiva students are crying out in the military prison whose only sin is refusing to take part in the despicable trade in souls,” the statement said. “The ultra-Orthodox public will embark on a great struggle for the true heroic soldiers, who protect the holy yeshivas with the bodies and souls.”
The government on Tuesday asked the High Court of Justice to further extend by four months the deadline the court set to pass a new law regulating the enlistment of ultra-Orthodox men in the military.
The request for a delay came after Avigdor Liberman resigned as defense minister earlier this month, pulling his Yisrael Beytenu party out of the government and leaving the coalition with the minimum majority of 61 out of 120 total Knesset seats.
Liberman has been a vocal supporter of a Defense Ministry-drafted bill setting minimum yearly targets for ultra-Orthodox conscription that, if not met, would result in financial sanctions on the yeshivas, or rabbinical seminaries, where they study. At the same time, it would also formalize exemptions for the vast majority of yeshiva students.
Last September, the High Court ruled that a 2015 version of Israel’s draft law granting most yeshiva students exemptions from service was unconstitutional, and gave lawmakers a year to institute new guidelines for ultra-Orthodox enlistment.
The court later gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government until December 2 to pass an amended version of the bill regulating enlistment. If new legislation is not voted into law, current deferral regulations will expire with the deadline, and thousands of yeshiva students will find themselves unable to renew their deferments, making them eligible to be drafted by the military.
The Council of Torah Sages of Agudath Yisrael, a rabbinical body that makes many of the decision for one of the two factions that makes up the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party, was expected to meet Wednesday in order to decide whether to quit the government, and trigger early elections, if the law were to pass.