Fearing Attacks, ultra-Orthodox Soldiers Allowed to Forgo Uniforms on Leave

Haredi soldiers have been attacked and threatened by members of their own community for serving in the Israel Defense Forces

Ultra-Orthodox demonstration against the draft, Jerusalem, April, 2017
Olivier Fitoussi

Some 600 ultra-Orthodox soldiers have been granted permission by the army not to wear their uniforms off base out of concern that they might be attacked when they come home on leave, the head of the army’s human resources planning and administration division told a Knesset panel on Tuesday.

Brig. Gen. Eran Shani told the Knesset subcommittee on human resources in the Israel Defense Forces that dozens of soldiers have also complained that because they are serving in the army, ultra-Orthodox schools have refused to accept their children.

Shani told the committee of dozens of attacks on soldiers as well as of advertisements that have begun to appear this year inciting against the soldiers. In one case, Shani said, an ultra-Orthodox soldier was asked not to come in uniform to pick up his son from kindergarten. In another case, an ultra-Orthodox officer’s car was vandalized. In a city in the south, the window in the home of an ultra-Orthodox soldier was smashed when his young son was in the house. “The soldier had to flee the city for a few days as a result,” Shani said.

Soldiers have been attacked almost every week in recent months in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea She’arim in Jerusalem. As a result, the police have sent detectives disguised as ultra-Orthodox soldiers to draw out assailants and arrest them.

Yesterday it was reported that a suspicious envelope, bearing the word “vengeance” was sent to the home of a senior figure involved in the drafting of ultra-Orthodox soldiers. The police sapper who opened it discovered some wires inside and an investigation has been launched.

A police representative told the committee that the police have received 30 complaints of assaults on ultra-Orthodox soldiers since the beginning of this year, in contrast to a total of 113 complaints filed from 2014 to 2017. “There is a sense of escalation in hostility in the Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] street toward Haredi soldiers,” he said.

Among the ways of combatting the attacks it was suggested during the meeting that funding be stopped to yeshivas whose students are involved in the incitement or to schools that refuse to enroll the children of soldiers.

There are currently about 6,600 Haredi soldiers and officers serving in the army, Shani said.

The committee’s chairman, MK Amir Ohana (Likud) criticized the Haredi lawmakers who he said were silent in the face of the attacks, and that the blood of the soldiers that is spilled will be on the hands of Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who is chairman of the Haredi United Torah Judaism party.

Rabbis and mainstream Haredi leaders have said it is useless for them to come out against the incitement because they have no control over Haredi extremists.