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Ultra-Orthodox protest against order to enlist in Israeli military turns violent in Jerusalem

Thousands of Jewish ultra-Orthodox men rallied to protest a Supreme Court order for them to begin enlisting for military service.
APTOPIX Israel Draft
Posted at 8:05 AM, Jul 01, 2024

Thousands of Jewish ultra-Orthodox men clashed with Israeli police in central Jerusalem on Sunday during a protest against a Supreme Court order for them to begin enlisting for military service.

The landmark decision last week ordering the government to begin drafting ultra-Orthodox men could lead to the collapse of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition as Israel wages war in Gaza.

Tens of thousands of men rallied in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood to protest the order. But after nightfall, the crowd made its way toward central Jerusalem and turned violent.

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Israeli police said protesters threw rocks and attacked the car of an ultra-Orthodox Cabinet minister, pelting it with stones. Water cannons filled with skunk-scented water and police mounted on horses were used to disperse the crowd. But the demonstration was still not under control late Sunday.

Military service is compulsory for most Jewish men and women in Israel. But politically powerful ultra-Orthodox parties have won exemptions for their followers to skip military service and instead study in religious seminaries.

The longstanding arrangement has bred resentment among the broader public, a sentiment that has grown stronger during the eight-month war against Hamas. Over 600 soldiers have been killed in fighting, and tens of thousands of reservists have been activated, upending careers, businesses and lives.

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Ultra-Orthodox parties and their followers say forcing their men to serve in the army will destroy their generations-old way of life. Earlier Sunday, thousands of men crowded a square and joined in mass prayers. Many held signs criticizing the government, with one saying “not even one male” should be drafted.

The ultra-Orthodox parties are key members of Netanyahu’s governing coalition and could potentially force new elections if they decide to leave the government in protest.

Party leaders have not said whether they will leave the government. Doing so could be risky, with Netanyahu's coalition's popularity lagging since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that sparked the war.