Hundreds of Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox protested the arrest of three women for not reporting for military duty.
The 18-year-old Haredi girls were arrested after failing to inform the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) that they are religious and therefore eligible for exemption from military service. Any Israeli, religious or secular, who does not show up for army service is liable to be arrested by the military police. The three girls, however, had not informed the authorities and requested exception.
In response, the Orthodox demonstrators sat down in the middle of Bar Ilan Street, a busy Jerusalem intersection bypassing the Haredi neighborhoods, while blocking traffic and causing major delays. Police eventually removed the demonstrators. Seven people were arrested and there were reports of violence against police officers.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews who commit to a life of Torah study are not required to do military service, which is otherwise a mandatory requirement for of both Jewish men and women for a period of three and two years, respectively. The Orthodox community are allowed exemption from service in order to devote their lives to Torah studies in a yeshiva, or Jewish seminary. Ultra-Orthodox girls are exempt entirely, but must report their religious status to the IDF prior to the date of their scheduled induction. Guidelines for ultra-Orthodox exemptions from military service were laid down by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, but continue to be a deep source of bitterness between secular and Orthodox Israelis.
Israel was not able to form a government after recent elections when Avigdor Liberman, leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, refused to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition in a feud over regulations and conditions for allowing ultra-Orthodox exemptions from military service. Liberman accused the demonstrators of trying to build a “state inside the State of Israel.”
The ongoing refusal of ultra-Orthodox to serve in the IDF “threatens the very fabric of the entire Israeli society,” Liberman said in a statement.
It was Yisrael Beiteinu’s six coalition seats that turned out to be necessary for Netanyahu to set up a majority right-wing government, together with the ultra-Orthodox parties. But for the Haredi parties, Liberman’s demands were a non-starter, and Israel was forced into new elections in September.