Last updated: 16 July, 2012

Ultra-Orthodox stage mass anti-draft rally in Jerusalem

Around 5,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews demonstrated in Jerusalem on Monday to protest against plans to make them serve in the Israeli army or do some other form of national service, police said.

“Some 5,000 people gathered in the ultra-Orthodox quarter of Meah Shearim to protest against plans to compel them to serve in the army or perform national service,” spokeswoman Luba Samri said, indicating that the demonstration had gone off without a hitch.

Most of the demonstrators were young students enrolled in religious seminaries, known as yeshivas, who waved banners reading: “We will never surrender to the government which wants to impose a civil or military service on us,” an AFP correspondent at the scene said.

Some demonstrators, all of whom were wearing the traditional black suits of the ultra-Orthodox, were handcuffed together to demonstrate their anger over the government’s plans to expand compulsory military or national service.

The new draft arrangement, which is still being debated by the government, is also expected to apply to Israel’s Arab community, which numbers around 1.6 million, or one fifth of Israel’s entire population.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government is currently locked in a dispute over the wording of legislation to replace the so-called Tal Law, which allowed thousands of ultra-Orthodox men to avoid military service, which is otherwise largely compulsory for all Israelis.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled that the law, which is set to expire on August 1, was unconstitutional and failed to ensure an equal burden of service for all, ordering that the legislation be rewritten.

Arab Israelis are set to stage their own mass protest against the proposed changes to the law on Wednesday with a rally in Nazareth in the north of the country.