Dozens of ultra-Orthodox men attacked Military Police soldiers in the city of Ashdod on Monday night, upon the officers' arrival in their neighborhood to arrest a draft dodger.
Police was alerted to the scene, dispersed the crowd and evacuated the officers. No casualties were reported, and the police made no arrests.
Police said that when the assailants spotted the army vehicle, surrounded it, shouted at the soldiers inside, threw stones at the car and eventually overturned it.
The police said in a statement that they view the incident with great severity, and will take all the measures necessary to find the culprits and put them to trial.
According to a member of Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach's faction, whose followers were involved in the incident, military police made two more failed attempts to arrest draft dodgers in Jerusalem on the same night. "We don't encourage overturning police cruisers, but on the other hand we don't encourage going to jail like sheep. When the police makes arrests and hunts youths in the dead of night on three locations it's only natural for emotions to get heated disproportionately," he told Haaretz.
Monday night's incident was the first after several months in which military police deliberately avoided arresting ultra-Orthodox draft dodgers, specifically followers of Rabbi Auerbach, the leader of a breakaway faction in the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community. Against the backdrop of his feud with the Degel HaTorah party and its rabbis, Auerbach has been instructing those among his followers approaching the draft age not to report to recruitment centers when called – not even in order to receive the exemption they are entitled to as yeshiva students.
Auerbach stepped up his campaign recently when he backed a smear campaign against ultra-Orthodox men who encourage young yeshiva students to enlist in one of the army's tracks that are specifically tailored for the ultra-Orthodox. Auerbach, along with several rabbis of his faction, issued a fiery religious edict backing the smear campaign, after several of its instigators were arrested for allegedly publishing the personal details of ultra-Orthodox officers, soldiers and civilians involved in promoting the draft.
"We must warn against them and protest against them with all our strength, and shame them publicly so they won't gain a foothold in our homes, or else they would tempt our children like missionaries, seeking to hunt souls and drive them against their reason into apostasy," wrote the rabbis, among them the head of the Grudna Yeshiva in Ashdod.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said the attack was "intolerable, and required a heavy hand against the rioters. We cannot be tolerant toward a radical, lawbreaking minority, and anyone who raises his hand against IDF troops – or uses violence in general – must be severely punished." Ya'alon added that he expects the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox community to condemn the attack.
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