120 arrested as hard-line religious Jews protest against Israeli army service
Thomas COEX (AFP)
At least 120 demonstrators were arrested in Israel on Thursday as several thousand ultra-Orthodox Jews blocked a major intersection in central Jerusalem to protest against efforts to force them to enlist in the Israeli military like their secular compatriots.
A series of such protests in recent weeks has been spurred by occasional arrests of ultra-Orthodox young men accused of dodging military service.
On Thursday, several thousand men and boys wearing traditional black suits and hats took to the streets of Jerusalem, at one point blocking a key intersection.
Others also reportedly blocked a main road northwest of Jerusalem earlier in the day.
In Jerusalem, some sat in the middle of the street while others danced and sang. One sign said: "To military prison for the crime of Torah study."
"The state wants to silence all the Jews who want to study Torah," said one man, who looked to be in his 40s and gave his name only as Tzvi.
"Lately they have seen the (ultra-Orthodox) population growing, so they want us to serve in the army and be absorbed into the general population."
Police appeared to be acting with restraint after accusations of excessive force at a recent protest.
Small groups of officers occasionally entered the protest to remove those who appeared to be stirring up the crowd, an AFP journalist reported.
"Police units mobilized in different areas of Jerusalem to respond to illegal demonstrations by right-wing ultra-religious demonstrators," police said in a statement.
"Until now police have arrested 20 suspects for blocking roads and causing disturbances."
Israeli law requires men to serve two years and eight months in the military on reaching the age of 18, while women must serve for two.
Ultra-Orthodox men are exempt from military service if they are engaged in religious study. Those who are not must still enlist with the military and can be arrested if they refuse.
In September, a decision by Israel's supreme court struck down the law exempting them.
However, the court suspended its ruling for one year to allow for preparations for a new arrangement, which also gives the government time to pass a new law.
The ruling raises the possibility that the ultra-Orthodox could be forced into service, a highly contentious proposition with political implications.
Ultra-Orthodox parties are a key part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition and have often acted as kingmakers in Israeli politics.
The ultra-Orthodox are against serving for a variety of reasons. Some do not recognise Israel, believing a Jewish state is not allowed before the coming of the Messiah.
Others argue that seminary study is just as important to Israel as military service, or that ultra-Orthodox soldiers would be confronted with salty language and other irreligious behavior.
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Lock them up for as long as their service in the IDF would be. Do not let them serve in a country club. They disgrace the name of all orthodox people.
By the way, it takes them at least an hour to prepare for these demonstrations two hours to demonstrate and an hour to get back to their homes. That equals four hours times at least five hundred demonstrators that equals some two thousand hours of not “learning”. I don’t really think ANY of them are real learners. FAKERS are more like it. Thank you publishing their first and last names. Now I know who I won’t let daughter date.