Israel Rocked With Protests as It Ends Ultra-Orthodox Exemption from IDF

Protests and riots erupted in Israel after the country’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing the Israeli government to draft ultra-Orthodox Jewish men for military service, ending the exemption for ultra-Orthodox men to serve in the country’s military for the first time since the country was founded in 1948.

The Israeli Supreme Court made a landmark decision ordering the government to begin drafting ultra-Orthodox men into the military, which could lead to the collapse of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition as Israel continues its war against Hamas in Gaza following the October 7 attacks that killed 1,200 Israelis and took hundreds of Israelis and foreigners hostage.

Aside from allowing the government to draft ultra-Orthodox men into military service, the Supreme Court also ruled that the government may no longer fund religious schools called “yeshivas” whose students don’t participate in the draft. 

Although Israel’s mandatory conscription requires both Israeli men and women to serve in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), the ruling applies to ultra-Orthodox men only. Politically powerful ultra-Orthodox parties had won exemptions in the past for their followers to skip military service and instead study in religious seminaries for decades.

This long-standing arrangement bred resentment among the general public, a sentiment that grew stronger following Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza. Over 600 IDF soldiers have been killed in the fighting, with tens of thousands of reservists activated.

Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox men rallied in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood to protest the order from the Supreme Court. But the demonstrators became violent as they made their way to central Jerusalem after nightfall.

Protesters attacked law enforcement, throwing stones at police officers, and set trash cans and the road on fire. They even attacked an ultra-Orthodox cabinet minister’s car, pelting it with stones. Videos shared on social media showed protesters surrounding the car of Yitzhak Goldknopf, Israel’s minister of housing and construction and head of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism, as he returned to his house. Other videos also showed children and teen ultra-Orthodox protesters walking near dumpster fires. 

A spokesperson for Goldknopf said the police evacuated the minister safely from the area a few minutes after the attack, and he was not injured. 

Israeli police said they had to use water cannons filled with skunk-scented water and police officers mounted on horses to disperse the crowd after the protesters ignored their orders to leave the area. Five people were arrested: two for attacking police officers and three for throwing stones or other objects. 

Some police officers remained in the area to direct traffic and prevent further disturbances. 

The police take seriously the attempts of those violent lawbreakers to hurt Israeli police officers with stones, sticks, eggs, and other things. There is no connection between a lawful protest and criminal and violent conduct of this type – which may lead to injury to body and property,” the Israeli police said.

The conduct of those who disturb the order and break the law in the area deserves every reproach. The Israel Police will continue to act against those violent troublemakers to maintain public order and the law,” it added.

Ultra-Orthodox parties and their followers argue that the order will destroy their generations-old way of life. They play a crucial part in Netanyahu’s governing coalition, and they may force new elections if they leave in protest, though party leaders have not said whether they will leave the government.

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