Last updated: 10 April, 2014

Orthodox Jews arrested in Israel anti-conscription protest

Israeli police arrested five ultra-Orthodox Jews who threw stones at them during a Jerusalem protest Thursday against a new law making men in their community subject to compulsory national service.

“Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in (the ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood of) Mea Sharim, stopped traffic and threw stones and bottles at police,” Micky Rosenfeld told AFP, adding that five of them were arrested.

The demonstration came a month after parliament adopted a law that will compel ultra-Orthodox Jews to either serve in the military or perform civilian service.

Last year, the cabinet agreed to end a practice under which tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox men were exempted from military service if they were in full-time study at a yeshiva (Jewish seminary).

The new law, which will take effect in 2017, stipulates that ultra-Orthodox men must either join the army or perform civilian service.

In broader Israeli society, military service is compulsory for both sexes, with men serving three years and women two.

The new law sets out sanctions against draft dodgers — including imprisonment. That has enraged the ultra-Orthodox leadership, who say it would be tantamount to jailing people for practising their faith.

In March, more than 300,000 ultra-Orthodox took to the streets of Jerusalem in a mass prayer vigil to protest against the impending legislation.

The new law is seen by many Israelis as amending the historic injustice of an exemption handed to the ultra-Orthodox in 1948, when Israel was created. At that time they were a small segment of society.

Because of high birth rates, the community has since swelled to make up roughly 10 percent of the country’s population of just over eight million, and continues to be the fastest-growing sector in Israel.

And many full-time yeshiva students live off government stipends, which are provided for several years after the age of 18.