Ultra-Orthodox Jews battle Israel police over the draft

AFP , Thursday 6 Feb 2014

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews battled police across Israel on Thursday in a wave of protests against their young men being called up for military service.

Police said that around 3,000 protestors blocked main roads in Jerusalem, the ultra-Orthodox Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak, the southern city of Ashdod and towns in central Israel.

An AFP journalist in Jerusalem said police fired water cannon at demonstrators who danced in the deluge.

They carried placards reading "Stop the ultra-Orthodox draft" and "Only in Israel is Bible study a criminal offence", she said.

Baton-wielding mounted officers charged stone-throwing protesters, she added.

Police said that at least 30 people were arrested for public disorder offences around the country, but there were no reports of injuries on either side.

The protests were sparked by cuts in government funding to Jewish theological seminaries, or yeshivas, and a crackdown on young ultra-Orthodox men seeking to avoid Israel's compulsory military draft.

The cabinet last year approved moves to end a practice under which tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox were exempted from military service if they were in full-time yeshiva study.

While new legislation is so far incomplete, the authorities are hardening enforcement of existing law.

Military service is compulsory in Israel, with men serving three years and women two. Ultra-Orthodox Jews make up roughly 10 percent of the country's population of just over eight million.

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