An Israel Defense Forces soldier was attacked by a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem's Mea She’arim neighborhood on Tuesday evening. The attackers also threw stones at Israel Police officers that arrived on the scene to assist the soldier.
The victim, an ultra-Orthodox resident of central Israel, serving in the IDF's Home Front Command, arrived in Mea She'arim to visit family members. The attackers noticed an individual wearing an IDF uniform and began to chase him, but he managed to evade them and rush into an apartment building, where he proceeded to change out of his uniform and call the police.
As the police arrived on the scene, they safely escorted the soldier out of the apartment building while a few dozen ultra-Orthodox men threw stones. Police dispersed the unruly crowd, and arrested four men on counts of disturbing the peace, and the soldier filed an official complaint with the police.
Hours later clashes in the neighborhood flared up again, as dozens of ultra-Orthdox youth lit garbage cans on fire, used them to block Mea She'arim street, and proceeded to clash with police.
Over the last few weeks, following extensive work by the Perry committee, and the progress made on several IDF draft reforms, there have been dozens of reported attacks against soldiers in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.
Brig. Gen. Gadi Agmon, head of the IDF's planning and manpower unit, recently said during a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting that "there is an unprecedented wave of attacks being perpetrated against ultra-Orthodox IDF soldiers, a campaign that is aimed at harming and condemning them. The phenomenon itself, and the style of attacks are both serious and severe. Attacks are being carried out in the streets and in the media. Notices posted all over ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods demand that soldiers be barred from synagogues and that their children be expelled from yeshivot. Stones are being thrown at them, their cars' tires are being slashed, and their homes vandalized. All of these phenomena have happened throughout the country."
Politicians were quick to criticize the attack. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said "we will severely punish anyone trying to threaten citizens fulfilling their civic duties. The best answer to these lawbreakers is the increasing number of ultra-Orthodox recruits in the last few years, and the fact that it will continue to increase following the government's decision regarding an equal sharing of the national burdern."
On Sunday, Netanyahu's cabinet approved a proposal for reforms to Israel's military conscription law which would abolish wholesale exemptions from military duty granted to ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students.
Fourteen ministers voted in favor of the proposal and four abstained. The matter will next be brought before Ministerial Committee for Legislation and is expected on the Knesset floor within the coming weeks.
The chairman of the government-appointed panel, Science and Technology Minister Jacob Perry, presented the legislation, which was drawn up in the course of 10 weeks of frantic deliberations. "The bill contains the necessary balances between the principle of studying Torah and the principles of serving the state," Perry said.
Under the proposed law, only 1,800 of those students, designated "outstanding biblical scholars," would get an exemption, out of the estimated 8,000 who become eligible for the draft every year.
In response to the attack, Perry stated "any attempt to physically or emotionally harm IDF soldiers will be immediately met with harsh punishment from the government. Cases like this will not be ingored by the authorities, and I call on ultra-Orthodox leaders to take the reins and put an end to this, before a disaster happens.
Shas party chairperson, MK Aryeh Deri expressed "astonishment and disgust regarding the actions of extremist, fringe youth, that shamelessly attacked a Jewish soldier. Their way is not our way, as our sages teach, 'he who raises his hand against his fellow is called wicked'".
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