Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel Protest Arrest of Draft-dodgers

All the demonstrators belong to extremist faction that refuses to even step into conscription offices to receive their exemption

Police in Bnei Brak firing water canons at ultra-Orthodox demonstrators protesting against the conviction of 11 Haredi draft dodgers, November 20, 2017.
Moti Milrod

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox men demonstrated in central Israel on Monday afternoon against the arrest of others from their community who refuse to serve in the Israeli army. Three demonstrators were arrested.

All the demonstrators were from the so-called "Jerusalem Faction," an extremist group within the non-Hasidic Ashkenazi community. Monday was the Jerusalem Faction’s second day of protests, which began after the faction’s leader, Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, ordered his followers to “go out to the city streets and protest for the honor of the Torah, which has been trampled into the dust.”

The faction’s specific complaint is that although ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students continue to be effectively exempt from army service, they are required to show up at conscription offices to obtain their exemption, and those who fail to do so can be arrested as draft-dodgers. Most ultra-Orthodox students comply with this arrangement, but the Jerusalem Faction objects to its members even setting foot in a conscription office. As a result, a military court sentenced 11 faction members to 90 days in jail for draft-dodging on Sunday.

They gathered in Hahalutzim Street in Bnei Brak, which was closed to traffic in both directions. From there, they marched to Jabotinsky Street, which was partially closed. Police sent a large force, including mounted cops and water cannons, to try to clear the road, a major artery.

But most of the people sentenced to jail on Sunday only ended up in court because they were arrested for disturbing the peace during a previous demonstration. After their arrest, it turned out they were also wanted as draft-dodgers.

Police said in a statement on Monday that though they respect freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate, they “will not allow violations of the law or displays of violence of any kind” and will respond forcefully if any occur.

Police arrested 32 demonstrators at Sunday’s demonstrations, which took place in both Jerusalem and Bnei Brak. In Jerusalem, the demonstrators blocked the intersection of Jaffa and Sarei Israel streets, thereby stopping both traffic and the light rail at that junction.