At this rate the “Start-Up Nation” is in danger of coming to be known as the “Protest Nation.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday announced a halt to his judicial reform, but anti-reform leaders almost immediately signaled their protests weren’t entirely about that as they insisted the mass demonstrations would continue.
On Wednesday, protest organizers called for a continuation of the weekly post-Shabbat mass demonstration at Kaplan Junction in Tel Aviv.
With judicial reform on the shelf, they needed another reason to gather, and turned to an old standby.
“We will no longer be silent about carrying the burden of Israeli society on our backs alone,” read a statement issued on social media. “We demand legislation for equal responsibility, in all areas of national life. It’s time to stop giving unreasonable budgets to those who do not serve in the People’s Army (IDF) or volunteer for national service.”
They were referring to the longstanding debate over military exemption for Orthodox Jewish yeshiva (seminary) students.
Back at the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, David Ben-Gurion granted military exemption to Orthodox Jews in order to win their political support for the reborn Jewish state. At that time, a majority of religious Jews saw a Jewish state founded by secular Jews as unbiblical. Today the situation has reversed, and religious Jews are generally seen as more “Zionist” than their secular counterparts.
But ultra-Orthodox Jews, who make up about 14% of Israel’s population today, continue to be exempt from military service that is mandatory for every other Jewish citizen.
This chafes secular Israelis, who point out that despite not carrying the same burden of responsibility, the ultra-Orthodox receive massive state budgets for their non-governmental education system and religious institutions.
Previous governments have tried to rectify this by bringing more ultra-Orthodox into the army, or other national service programs, but legislation on the matter is routinely halted when Netanyahu becomes prime minister, as the ultra-Orthodox parties are his most stalwart allies.
By appealing to this situation, which has been ongoing for decades, the anti-government protest movement says it will continue taking to the streets to “defend democracy.”
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