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Thousands of ultra-Orthodox protest in J’lem against IDF draft

"This is a decree to annihilate us," one rabbi reportedly declared.

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protest against the military draft in Jerusalem, April 11, 2024. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protest against the military draft in Jerusalem, April 11, 2024. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered outside an Israel Defense Forces recruitment office in central Jerusalem on Thursday to protest against the enlistment of some yeshivah students into the military.

The protesters on Rashi Street, including members of the anti-Zionist “Jerusalem Faction,” held placards claiming that Israel is “persecuting Torah scholars” and declaring they would choose death over enlisting.

Following minor clashes with police officers, authorities led protesters away from the entrance to the IDF draft office, Ynet said. Surrounding streets were reportedly closed to traffic due to the demonstration.

Arutz 7 cited one speaker at the rally as stating, “We are rebelling against the state with strength and pride, and announce: ‘We will die and not enlist.’ They deal in haredi souls like the Nazis dealt in Jews.”

“This is a decree to annihilate us,” the Jerusalem Faction rabbi proclaimed, according to the Arutz 7 report.

Two weeks ago, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that haredi yeshivah students who did not obtain a deferral and who have failed to report to the IDF since July 1, 2023, will now be ineligible for financial stipends.

The court decided that an extended panel of nine justices would hear petitions demanding a universal draft for haredim starting in May.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had written to the court asking for a 30-day extension so he could reach an agreement regulating the draft. He told justices that while progress had been made towards reaching a deal within the coalition government, the “work is not yet complete.”

Ynet reported on Thursday that the ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition agreed to enter discussions regarding recruitment targets as part of negotiations for a new draft law. One of the government’s goals is to increase the number of haredi recruits by 25%, the report added.

Interior Ministry Arbel, a member of the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi Shas Party, told a Hebrew-language podcast this week that there are currently some 1,500 haredi men in every age group who can be conscripted and who “must be part of those carrying the burden.”

“The reality after Oct. 7 is that the haredi public must understand and internalize that there is no moral option to continue this way,” said Arbel, in reference to the Hamas attacks in which 1,200 people, primarily Jewish civilians, were murdered and thousands more wounded.

Arbel was swiftly denounced by Shas, which noted that its stances are “expressed only by the Shas movement’s official organs” and politicians received instructions “not to speak at all on the topic.”

Meanwhile, Israeli Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara in a statement reiterated her belief that, as of last week, the legal basis for exempting haredim from being drafted into the army has expired.

“There is no source of legal authority to grant a blanket exemption; they must be recruited according to law,” stated Baharav-Miara.

Currently, there are no plans to send the authorities into the yeshivot to catch draft dodgers and the pressure to be applied will be through cuts to the institutions’ budgets, the Walla news site reported last week.

Many haredi Jews frown on army service, considering it a distraction from Torah study and a threat to their tradition and way of life. However, Oct. 7 has heightened the demands of the larger public that the ultra-Orthodox contribute their share to the defense of the nation.

While most Israelis agree that the ultra-Orthodox community should play a more prominent role in Israel’s defense, some politicians have questioned the behavior and timing of the Supreme Court, the attorney general and certain members of the wartime government.

The number of haredi men studying in yeshivot who are deemed eligible for IDF military service is estimated at between 63,000 and 66,000. Since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, 1,140 haredim enlisted, of which 600 were over the age of 26, the current age of exemption for them.

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