An ultra-Orthodox protest against the IDF draft.
An ultra-Orthodox protest against the IDF draft. Photo by Oren Nahshon
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Some 30,000 ultra-Orthodox protesters arrived Thursday at the Israel Defense Force's regional recruitment center in Jerusalem, located in the Haredi neighborhood of Mekor Barukh, to rally against government plans to conscript yeshiva students to the Israel Defense Forces.

Large numbers of Israel Police forces and Border Police were readied to prevent demonstrators from gaining access to the recruitment center. Protesters threw stones at police, with one demonstrator throwing a smoke grenade. At least three protesters and ten police officers were reportedly injured during the rally.

The number of protesters is far greater than police were expecting - the rally had recieved a license for 5,000 protesters. A number of anarchists also showed up to demonstrate their support of draft refusal, and were cordoned off by policemen.

Jerusalem District Police Commander Yossi Prienti said on Thursday evening: "We will use a heavy hand against attempts to disturb the peace, and we will settle the score with anyone who tries to damage property or hurt anyone." 

The rally was instigated by rabbis affiliated with the extremist Hared factions, led by the heads of the Eda Haredit (the umbrella group of the extremist ultra-Orthodox factions in Jerusalem) and the Lithuanian Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach.

Mainstream rabbis, headed by Rabbi Aharon Steinman, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and the Admors, refrained from participating in the rally despite energetic attempts to enlist their support.

Earlier Thursday, leaflets were distributed in Haredi neighborhoods in the city urging residents to demonstrate. The announcements – which were distributed in the streets and in the Haredi press –  Eda Haredit rabbis, headed by Rabbi Yitzhak Tuvia Weiss, called for the public to go out and protest against the authorities, who "seem determined to eliminate and abolish religion and Torah in Israel in every shape and form, and the conscription decree that hovers above the heads of a holy people, as 'the wicked are like the troubled sea' are deciding how to admit all the young men of Israel into the army, something which is unacceptable and essentially forbidden."

Rabbi Auerbach called upon his public to "gather and to defend ourselves as a bastion against this religious persecution that seeks to uproot the Torah from Israel, it shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass, the Torah will not be replaced, it is our lives and the length of our days. We will not rest nor be silent until with God's help all these harsh decrees will be cancelled."

The demonstration was held at a time that the Perry Committee, tasked with formulating the wording for a new conscription law that will replace the Tal Law, which was canceled by the Supreme Court last summer, is struggling to achieve results following internal disputes.