Hundreds of Thousands Expected at Haredi Rally Against Draft Bill

Demonstrations will cause major disruptions in Jerusalem, block entrance to the city. PM Netanyahu will be focus of ultra-Orthodox anger.

Jerusalem is expected to be gridlocked Sunday, starting in the afternoon, with hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews from all over the country planning to block the city’s entrance, in a mass demonstration against the impending draft law.

The leaders of almost all the Haredi communities last week called on their followers to attend the protest rally. The rabbis are especially incensed by lawmakers’ plans to impose prison sentences on yeshiva students if the proposed draft quotas are not met.

The rally and prayer meeting are scheduled to start at 4 P.M. and last for two hours, and will be held near the Chords Bridge and the Central Bus Station. The police commander of the Jerusalem District, Maj. Gen. Yossi Pariente, is expecting hundreds of thousands of protesters, and the police say they know of at least 2,000 buses coming. Pariente said the police have no prior information of any planned disturbances of the peace. Some 3,500 police, Border Police and volunteers are on high alert and will police the event.

Solidarity rallies and prayer sessions are also scheduled in various Haredi population centers in the United States and Britain over the draft issue.

In an embarrassment to Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi – which has been instrumental in formulating the new “sharing the burden” draft law, with the relevant Knesset committee even being headed by its MK, Ayelet Shaked – dozens of rabbis from the right wing of the party’s religious Zionist constituency have announced they will participate in the demonstrations.

Route 1, the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway, will be closed in both directions from 1 P.M., starting from the Latrun Junction. From 2 P.M., a large number of roads around the entrance to the capital and the northern entrance will be closed, including Yirmiyahu, Bar-Ilan, Sarei Yisrael, Shazar and Weizmann streets, as well as the entrance at the Sakharov Gardens, as well as a number of roads near the Knesset and Israel Museum, as well as the northern part of Herzl Boulevard.

Public transportation will operate only partially after 1 P.M., as buses will not be able to reach the Central Bus Station. Also, parts of the tracks for the light rail trains will be blocked.

The rabbis of the extremist Edah HaChareidit factions joined the protest call, as did Chabad rabbis and leaders of the Haredi-nationalist factions.

The Torah Sages councils of Agudath Yisrael, Degel Hatorah and Shas parties also came out in a joint statement announcing the “prayer rally and mass protest.” In many communities, the rabbis dedicated their Shabbat sermons to the issue.

Yeshiva students and ultra-Orthodox children from the age of 9 will take part in the demonstration, at the instruction of the Lithuanian (non-Hasidic Ashkenazi) sect leader, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman. Hundreds of ushers will be charged with preventing acts of violence and vandalism during the event, and the organizers are trying to project an image of moderation for the event.

A stage is being built on Jaffa Street at the entrance to the capital, from which rabbis will read prayers and say psalms. The organizers have decided that no speeches will be made.

Studies in Haredi schools and yeshivas will be cut short to enable children and students to attend the rally. However, the Jerusalem municipality said classes will be held as normal – except for three schools in the area of the rally, where classes will end at 1 P.M. Special education students will be bused home earlier than usual to beat the traffic.

The rally organizers are directing their protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his decision to include criminal sanctions in the draft law, at the insistence of Yesh Atid. The bill has not yet been passed.

Thousands of signs and advertisements have been printed for the rally – many directed at Netanyahu – with slogans such as “Bibi is dividing the people,” and “Bibi is bad for the Jews.” Other slogans are verses from the Bible mentioning disasters that threatened the Jewish people.

Shiran Granot