"Social" protest (file)
"Social" protest (file)Israel news photo: Flash 90

Thousands of people attended a demonstration Saturday evening outside the Tel Aviv Museum, demanding that all sectors of the Israeli populace share in the burden of military and national service.

Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, who heads Kadima, and journalist-turned-politician Yair Lapid, mingled with the demonstrators. The demonstration is meant to pressure Mofaz and his party to leave the coalition if demands for sanctions against hareidi Jews who evade enlistment are not met.

The protesters brandished signs saying “One people, one draft” and “Barak, you promised – now live up to it.” Other posters read “No army, no stipends,” and “Equal draft = social justice.”

One of the speakers to address the rally was former Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) chief Yuval Diskin, who reviewed his own service record as a means of establishing his credentials. “I served willingly for 37 years and never felt like a sucker,” he told the crowd. “There is something rotten in our leadership – we must demand that public officials not escape and not avoid acting here and now about the situation... We finally have an opportunity to fix the injustice.”

Likud MK Carmel Shama also spoke from the podium, pointing out, “We can all march and protest, but only one person can lead and make the historic change. [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu won't miss the chance to make history and ensure the future of the State of Israel.”

While the call for equality in service is shared by large parts of the population and a majority in the Knesset, there are meaningful differences in details between the parties' approach to the issue. The leftist-liberal parties direct their anger only at hareidim, while more centrist and nationalist parties note that Arabs, too, need to serve the country, and that many secular people avoid service as well. The religious parties also stress the vital importance of Torah study and the flourishing of yeshivas in Israel,  now the largest center of Torah learning in the Jewish world..

The Yediot Aharonot empire, which includes Ynet, ran numerous articles and news items at week's end with headlines that exhorted Israelis to pour out into the streets and attend the demonstration. The media backing for the demonstration is reminiscent of last summer's "social" protests, which also appeared geared toward toppling the government.