Two weeks after more than 300,000 haredi poured out into the streets in protest of the government's intentions to begin drafting ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, the haredi community is demonstrating against the arrest of one such student.
The student was arrested after refusing to report to his first draft notice. The demonstrators demanded the student be released, refusing to accept that – under the new law – a student can be arrested for asking to learn Torah instead serve in the IDF.
The bill, which would not go fully into effect until 2017, would impose criminal sanctions on ultra-Orthodox draft dodgers. However, yeshiva students would have the right to defer service until age 26. The issue lies at the heart of a cultural war on the place of the ultra-Orthodox in Israeli society.
Haredi protest in Bnei Brak (Photo: Gilad Morag)
For years exempt from military service, the ultra-Orthodox insist their young men serve the nation through prayer and study, thus preserving Jewish learning and heritage. They say conscription threatens their community.
Around 1,000 haredi gathered on a central street in Bnei Brak, waving anti-draft signs. Police officers are deployed in force across the demonstration zone.
In Jerusalem – under the watchful eye of police officers – nearly 500 haredi convened under Chords Bridge. One sign in the capital city's protest: "We beat Pharaoh, we survived the gas chambers, and we will overcome Zionism too."
Yossi, a 25-year-old haredi who had previously served as an officer in the IDF spoke at the demonstration: "The protest is not against the soldiers or against the army. It is against a state that wants to root out the Torah."
He said he "opposed forced enlistment. Those who don't study Torah should go to the military, but to take a yeshiva student from his school books to the military is to root out the Torah."
Demonstrations have materialized across the country, in the northern town of Atlit and the southern city of Ashdod. In the latter, several hundred demonstrators blocked off the southern entrance to the city.
According to the protesters, the arrest of the yeshiva student occurred in the city of Elad where he resides. They claim the student raised suspicion in a police officer, who then asked him for his ID card.
The officer saw on the police terminal that the young haredi man had not reported to the enlistment center and was considered a deserter. The student was transferred to the IDF and was sentenced by a military tribunal to 10 days in prison.
Noam 'Dabul' Dvir, Gilad Morag, Kobi Nachshoni, and Matan Tzuri contributed to this report.