Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest as opposition to Israel army draft exemption increases

Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest as opposition to Israel army draft exemption increases
There were signs at the ultra-Orthodox protest declaring 'We will die and not enlist' and 'We tell the High Court – we'll go to jail over the army'.
2 min read
04 March, 2024
Ultra-Orthodox Jews studying at yeshiva religious establishments are currently exempt from military conscription in Israel [JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty-archive]

Ultra-Orthodox Jews demonstrated in Israel on Sunday against increasing opposition to the wholesale exemption from military conscription available to their community.

Hundreds of men blocked a key road near the city of Bnei Brak, close to Tel AvivThe Times of Israel reported.

There were signs declaring "We will die and not enlist" and "We tell the High Court – we'll go to jail over the army".

The police cleared demonstrators off the road so vehicles could pass.

Footage showed a member of Israel's border police kicking one person sitting on the highway.

According to police, some demonstrators said officers were "Nazis".

In Petah Tikva, another city near Tel Aviv, ultra-Orthodox demonstrators were able to bring the light rail to a halt for a time.

In 2017, the Israeli High Court found the wholesale the exemption of ultra-Orthodox Jews studying at yeshivas, a type of religious educational establishment, to violate the constitution.

The court told the state to arrive at a solution for the problem.

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A law permitting the service exemption ran out in June last year, with a regulation temporarily prolonging it due to go out of force at the end of this month.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition, which includes ultra-Orthodox parties, wants to create a new law to allow the exemption to continue.

But Yoav Gallant, the country's defence minister, said last week that he is against continuing wholesale exceptions and would not support legislation on the issue unless it had the approval of war cabinet ministers Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot.

Gallant said the personnel requirements of Israel's military during its war on Gaza and the escalation along its northern border, where it has traded fire with Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, leaves the yeshiva draft exception unserviceable.

Israel's war on Gaza has so far killed more than 30,500 people in the devastated strip.

Hamas representatives began talks in Cairo on reaching a ceasefire agreement on Sunday.

In comments published online by the Israeli army in February, chief of staff Herzi Halevi spoke about the opportunity to widen the military's recruitment pool, raising concerns the state's Palestinian minority could be drafted for the first time.

He said the army has "always sought to integrate all parts of Israeli society among its ranks".

"We have a historic opportunity to expand the [army's] recruitment sources at a time when the necessity is very high," he added.

"We will know how to produce the solutions and the right conditions for every population that will join this noble mission."