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Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men clash with police, block major highway over calls for military enlistment

Ultra orthodox Jews block a road during a protest against the drafting of Ultra orthodox jews to the Israeli army, on road number 4, outside the city of Bnei Brak, March 3, 2024. Photo by Itai Ron/Flash90

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men protested by the hundreds on Sunday, blocking a major north-south highway near the religious town of Bnei Brak for several hours. The men were from the Israeli Haredi political organization Peleg Yerushalmi, also known as the Jerusalem Faction, and were demonstrating against potential enlistment to serve in the Israel Defense Forces.

Some protesters held signs that read: “We tell the High Court – we’ll go to jail over the army” and, “We will die and not enlist.” Police removed the protesters from the road with force to allow traffic to pass through. 

The extremist Jerusalem Faction, with its roughly 60,000 members, is opposed to Zionism and any cooperation with the State of Israel. The group regularly protests the military draft of yeshiva (religious school) students, who were instructed by their leadership to not report to the IDF recruitment bureau.

Yeshiva students have historically been exempt from Israeli military service and according to current Israeli law, they are eligible to receive stipends for studying in yeshivas (religious schools).

However, in 2017, the High Court ruled that blanket military service exemptions for yeshiva students are both discriminatory and unconstitutional.

In addition, the law that currently makes it possible for yeshiva students to be exempted from military service expired last June and a temporary decree that extended the exemption is set to expire at the end of March.

On Wednesday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that he would not support a new law intended to end the exemptions for drafting ultra-Orthodox men into the IDF unless it has the full support of every part of the government coalition.

“Without the agreement of all parts of the coalition, the security system under my leadership will not submit this law,” Gallant said during a press briefing.  

Last week, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara told Israel's High Court that as soon as the draft law expires, ultra-Orthodox men will need to be drafted and the stipends will no longer be paid.

The ultra-Orthodox parties currently serving in the government have indicated they will not agree to that.  

“We won’t agree to anything in regards to drafting yeshiva students,” said Rabbi Meir Tzvi Bergman last week. Bergman is an influential member of the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) political party, which is part of the coalition. “Nobody can force us to abandon the Torah,” he added.

Another source from the ultra-Orthodox UTJ told the Times of Israel: “If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to remain prime minister by summertime, he must get a conscription law approved in the Knesset.”

The debate over exemptions for yeshiva students has intensified due to the enormous strain the conflict in Gaza has placed on both the IDF and Israeli society. Demands for the enlistment of ultra-Orthodox men have particularly surged in recent weeks after the IDF announced it planned to increase the mandatory service duration for military recruits and to delay retirement for some reservists while increasing the number of days that they are obligated to serve annually.

Several members of the Knesset, including lawmakers within the coalition, reacted to the IDF's plans with demands for the ultra-Orthodox to enlist in order to deal with the shortages in manpower.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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