Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest in Jerusalem over army enlistment plans

Clashes with police leave six policemen and five protesters injured

 Ultra-Orthodox demonstrators pack the streets in Jerusalem to protest against government plans to force students at yeshiva religious seminaries to enlist in the Israeli army. Photograph: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Ultra-Orthodox demonstrators pack the streets in Jerusalem to protest against government plans to force students at yeshiva religious seminaries to enlist in the Israeli army. Photograph: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Sat, May 18, 2013, 01:00

Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews have rallied in Jerusalem against government plans to force students at yeshiva religious seminaries to enlist in the Israeli army.

Some 25,000 protesters, dressed in traditional long black coats and black hats, gathered outside the Jerusalem army enlistment office as rabbis urged the crowd to go to prison rather than heed the draft.

Clashes with police left six policemen and five protesters injured, and journalists and a small group of secular counter-demonstrators were also attacked.

Protesters arrested
Internal security minister Yitzhak Aharonivich said eight protesters were arrested and will be charged.

“Criminal behaviour, illegal protests and assault of officers will not change the equal ‘share of the burden’ law and the government’s firm stand on the issue.”

Psalms were recited and rabbis told the crowd that the government had declared a war on observant Jews with an “evil decree” aimed at forcing them away from yeshiva study and into the army.

The rabbis also fear that army service will open up youth from the extremely insular ultra-Orthodox community to what they perceive as the destructive influences of modern, secular Israeli society.

Israeli males serve three years in the army (two years for women), but the overwhelming majority of ultra-Orthodox Jews are exempted under the terms of a deal struck between Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion and the community’s leaders.

However, resentment has grown among most Israelis as the ultra-Orthodox numbers have burgeoned.

The demand to end the ultra-Orthodox exemptions, termed “sharing of the burden” in Israeli parlance, was a key feature of the January election.

Agreements
The second largest party in the coalition, the secular Yesh Atid led by finance minister Yair Lapid, insisted the coalition agreements included a promise to introduce legislation on the issue within a few months, forcing ultra-Orthodox parties into the opposition.