Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest in Jerusalem and vow to defy military draft

May 17, 2013

(Israeli policemen detain an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man during a demonstration against plans to enlist men from their community into the military, near the recruitment offices in Jerusalem May 16, 2013. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested in Jerusalem on Thursday against plans to enlist men from their community into the military, a proposal supported by the secular majority pushing for a more equal share of the burden on Israeli society.

A sea of black coats – the traditional attire of ultra-Orthodox men – engulfed Jerusalem streets near the city’s military draft bureau where the crowd heard rabbis warn that army service would irreparably harm their way of life.

“The government wants to uproot (our traditions) and secularize us, they call it a melting pot, but people cannot be melted. You cannot change our (way of life),” Rabbi David Zycherman told the crowd in an anguished plea.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government has committed to increase drafting ultra-Orthodox men, most of whom receive exemptions on religious grounds, in order to share the national burden and reduce pressure on the middle classes.

The party of Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Netanyahu’s main coalition partner, received wide support at the polls in January on a pledge to resist demands by religious parties and to spread the load of army service and taxation more evenly.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said at least 20,000 protesters took part and about a dozen arrests were made when violence erupted and men hurled bottles and stones at officers, some on horseback, who used stun grenades to quell the unrest.

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