Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews Protest Cut in Yeshiva Funding for Draft-dodgers

Ultra-Orthodox youths protest the High Court decision to cut funding to yeshiva students whose army service was deferred; police arrest 31.

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested across Israel on Thursday afternoon against a High Court ruling to halt yeshiva funding for students who dodge service in the Israeli army. Police arrested 31 protesters for disorderly conduct.

The High Court of Justice ruled Tuesday to cut funding to yeshiva students whose IDF service was deferred. The Haredim were also protesting the detention of a yeshiva student who didn't turn up to a meeting at the IDF recruitment center after he received a draft notice.

In the central city of Bnei Brak, some 2,000 Haredis blocked Coca Cola Junction, and there was a large police presence at the scene. Route 4 was closed to traffic, and later reopened.

At the entrance to the southern city of Ashdod around one hundred people came out to protest. A police car was set on fire and the police detained 12 suspects for disturbing the peace and throwing stones at police officers, and two policemen were lightly wounded. The commander of the Lachish District came to the scene. 

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox youths also demonstrated at the entrance to Jerusalem.

Thursday's protests took place following Tuesday's High Court of Justice ruling regarding funding to yeshiva students. An expanded nine-member panel issued an interim injunction compelling the state to stop transferring stipends to thousands of ultra-Orthodox students. The decision applies to those who were born in 1994, 1995 and the first half of 1996, who received a draft notice for various dates beginning from August 2013, and who did not report for the draft because of decisions by Defense Minister Ya’alon.

Ya’alon has deferred the drafting of the yeshiva students three times. But the justices said that whether he actually had the authority to do so “is in doubt.”

The state supports these yeshivas, and for all practical purposes funds the yeshiva students’ studies, based on various criteria for allocating Education Ministry funding to religious schools. The High Court’s decision on the interim injunction was made by a majority of eight to one, with Justice Neal Hendel dissenting.

Regarding a related High Court petition demanding that the Haredi yeshiva students be drafted immediately, the justices ordered the state to submit its response by the end of March, while warning that if new legislation on this issue hasn’t been completed by then, “we’ll consider what this requires [us]” to do.

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox youths have received mandatory IDF draft orders since the Tal Law, which governed Haredi enlistment, expired in August 2012, after being declared unconstitutional earlier that year.

Moti Milrod