Yesterday afternoon, thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews convened in lower Manhattan to protest the Israeli proposal that would draft them into the military. One protester told the AP, "We’re all united against military service for religious men in Israel because it doesn’t allow for religious learning. The Israeli government is looking to destroy religious society and make the country into a secular melting pot."
Currently, ultra-Orthodox Israelis studying in yeshivas are exempt from Israel's mandatory two-year military service for Jews (it doesn't apply to Christians and Arabs). The Jerusalem Post reported, "The most controversial aspect of the bill was the stipulation that yeshiva students who refuse to serve will be subject, as all other Jewish men are, to the Law for the Security Services, which provides for two years’ imprisonment for those refusing to enlist." The bill, which does allow some deferrals and exemptions, wouldn't go into effect until 2017.
An 18-year-old rabbinical student, Shmuel Gruis, told the AP, "These kids, a lot of them don’t know how to hold a gun. They don’t know what physical warfare is... Their whole world and their whole lifestyle is peace and love and in doing mitzvahs. And you take a bunch of kids out of the environment where they come from — in my eyes, it’s wrong."
Many others at the protest reiterated that it would destroy Israel. Rabbi Jacob Kellner said to the NY Post, "Until now, they gave us the respect since we’re religious and we study, that we should stay in the yeshivas. Now. they’re changing that. This is very strongly a lack of respect." He added that he would rather his children be sent to prison than serve in the army.
Last week, 300,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews protested in Jerusalem. From MondoWeiss:
“Lapid is dead.” “Lapid, he’s a Nazi.” “Lapid wants to die fast, from the heavens God sees everything,” said a group of teenage ultra-Orthodox (also called Haredim) girls from the Tel Aviv area. They likened Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid, the main backer of the compulsorily conscription legislation, to the assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, suggesting he would meet a similar fate. In the past week Lapid has taken the brunt of Haredi discontent against the military service measure, and even received a death threat days before the march.
“He’s a monkey, he’s a dog,” said the girls. Then turning their attention to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the secular-nationalist Economic Minister Naftali Bennett, both of whom are also backers of the draft bill, they said, “Bennett is an anti-Semite. Netanyahu is an anti-Semite. Lapid is an anti-Semite,” the teens continued, adding “Lapid he is a shiksa [Yiddish for a non-Jewish woman, with the connotation of a harlot], but Netanyahu, he is a shiksa-shiksa!”
Netanyahu, Bennett and Lapid, “they will cut our subsidies, the money is for us,” the teen continued. As with many Haredim, the young women feared the loss of government support the state provides them would go hand-in-hand with military service.
The protest's organizers said 50,000 were gathered. They were wall-to-wall for blocks: