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Israel's ultra-Orthodox stage huge anti-draft protest
Published Sunday 02/03/2014 (updated) 04/03/2014 17:57
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Ultra-Orthodox Jews hold hands during a protest against their
young men being called up for military service on Feb. 6, 2014 in
Jerusalem (AFP/File Gali Tibbon)
JERUSALEM (AFP) - Hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews took to Jerusalem's streets for a mass prayer vigil Sunday in protest at plans to conscript their young men for Israeli military service.

Wearing white shirts under dark suits and donning black hats, a sea of ultra-Orthodox men and boys representing the three major streams -- Lithuanian, Hassidic, and Sephardi -- were united in a rare show of power against impending legislation that could change their legal status in Israel.

Bearing signs with slogans such as "war on religion" and "we will not join the military," the masses took part in a prayer led by a cantor through huge loudspeakers set up at Jerusalem's main road in and out of the city.

Yaakov Biton, a 28-year-old resident of the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, told AFP that he and the rest of his peers from his theological seminary came to Jerusalem "to show that we are not afraid of the criminal sanctions, we are united."

"We will win in the end, the Torah will win," said Biton.

Police said "hundreds of thousands" were taking part in the demonstration, which saw major disruption of traffic.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said 3,500 police were deployed to maintain order.

The protests were sparked by cuts in government funding to Jewish theological seminaries, or yeshivas, and a planned crackdown on young ultra-Orthodox men seeking to avoid Israel's compulsory military draft.

The cabinet last year agreed to end a practice under which tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox were exempted from military service if they were in full-time yeshiva study.

New legislation is so far incomplete, but a parliamentary committee has approved a draft bill setting quotas for ultra-Orthodox men joining the military or civilian public service, to be implemented from 2017.

The proposed law allows for sanctions against men who evade service, including imprisonment, a clause that enraged the ultra-Orthodox leadership, which said it would amount to Israel sending people to prison for practicing their religion.

'Stop this persecution'

The move to force ultra-Orthodox men to serve their country is seen by many Israelis as amending the historic injustice of the exemption handed to the ultra-Orthodox in 1948, when Israel was created. At that time they were a small segment of society.

Owing to their high birth rate, the ultra-Orthodox community has since swelled to make up roughly 10 percent of the country's population of just over eight million, and continues to be the fastest growing group in Israel.

The current exemption from military service is only given to ultra-Orthodox men who commit to remain in their yeshivas, and who are hence not available for work.

This creates poverty among the ultra-Orthodox and is seen by Israel's leadership as a growing threat to the national economy.

The new policy is primarily aimed at increasing ultra-Orthodox participation in the work force.

MP Nissim Zeev, of the opposition ultra-Orthodox Shas party, said the new policy amounted to religious persecution.

"The aim (of the protest) is to send an unequivocal message to the government," he told public radio.

"Enough is enough, you must stop this persecution."

Military service is compulsory in Israel, with men serving three years and women two.
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1 ) Mel / USA
02/03/2014 20:54
So,that's a conscientious-objector force of approx 1 million Jews? Not to mention the growing numbers of young Jewish Refusniks & young Jews leaving militarist occupier Israel to live in Europe &USA etc. Ergo,common-sensically,the BEST thing for Israel,USG tax payers,&EVERYONE ELSE,is to END THE UNSUSTAINABLE Zionist-OCCUPATION of Palestine.Considering that MORE people are against it,Israel doesn't have enough global Jews(white or black)to sustain a theocratic military'crusade'against pluralism!

2 ) Sarah / The Netherlands
02/03/2014 22:42
Another sign of apartheid, here are no (rubber) bullets, no teargas. Only at Palestinian demonstrations, funerals etc.

3 ) Tobias / USA
03/03/2014 01:20
Israel is NOT like the USSR, where citizens are locked in the state, and Israel has laws that must be obeyed, by every citizen, like any other state, and if either Israel's Orthodox Jews, or Israel's Arabs don't want to either leave or obey the laws, they will have to serve their jail sentences !!

4 ) Arnold / Canada
03/03/2014 20:34
These are the same group of Jews that were led away to the gas chambers without a fight. There are those who say "let them study torah" I say also let them study torah but who is going to put the food on the table to keep up their strength. Who is going to protect them when the next pogrom occurs ?

5 ) Chimo / USA
03/03/2014 23:40
Ignoring # 1 and #2, I totally agree with both #'s 3 and 4. The Ultra Orthodox have been living off other Israelis for decades and enough is enough. No one says they can't study Torah, but to expect the rest of society to pay for each family which has in upwards of 4 or more kids is total chutzpah. Work for a living is all the country is saying. You don't want to join the IDF, fine, then go to work and earn a living

6 ) Rose E Lee / Romania/Uk
03/03/2014 23:54
@2 - Sarah, thank you for pointing that out, very helpful in understanding what is happening.

7 ) platinum / pilipinas
04/03/2014 03:39
wake up israel. ultra orthodox and palestinian are equal under the international law but not uner the israeli law. clear a sign of racism and apertheid

8 ) Colin Wright / USA
04/03/2014 03:43
To Arnold #4: '... I say also let them study torah but who is going to put the food on the table to keep up their strength. Who is going to...' Mmm, mmm, mmm. It sounds like YOU have quite a problem there.
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