Thousands of hareidi-religious Jews rallied Monday night in Jerusalem to protest the proposed universal draft law that would recruit all Israeli citizens, including men and women, observant Jews of all stripes and Arabs, at age 18, without exemptions.
At least 2,500 men and boys gathered in Kikar Shabbat (Shabbat Square) in the Meah Shearim neighborhood at a demonstration organized by the Eida HaHareidit [an u ltra orthodox anti-Zionist group, ed.] to protest the proposed law. Many of the children and youths were wearing handcuffs and waving signs that read, “Mommy and Tatti, Save me!”
Speaking from the podium, a rabbi exhorted the crowd to “remain Jews who observe the Torah and mitzvos” even if “they lock us up and beat us.”
The demonstration was being held against the backdrop of a flurry of proposals for a universal draft that would recruit all Israeli citizens to the army at age 18, regardless of status, including Arabs as well as Jews.
Up to this year, the Tal Law, formulated by retired Supreme Court Justice Tzvi Tal, allowed yeshiva students to obtain exemptions from the draft. At age 22, the student could choose between one year of civil service with a paying job, or an abbreviated 16-month tour of duty, with future service in reserves, as an alternative to continued yeshiva life and a way to encourage joining the work force.
However, the High Court of Justice ruled the Tal Law to be unconstitutional this past February after a suit was filed by secular citizens claiming it was unegalitarian.
The decision set off a firestorm in which politicians have battled for ways to replace the law with a universal draft or a similar measure enabling full-time rabbinical students to continue their studies. The issue has also created a coalition crisis with religious parties such as United Torah Judaism and the Sephardic Shas party. Prime Minister Netanyahu formed a committee to come up with an alternative, but disbanded it when the religious members left in protest at the extreme measures being incorporated into the draft of the proposed new law.