Anti-draft dodgers rally in haredi stronghold

Dozens assemble in Bnei Brak to protest draft-dodging phenomenon among haredim

Ynet News, Israel/April 2, 2010

A decade after the Tal Commission led to an extended ultra-Orthodox exemption from military service, dozens of parents and youngsters rallied at the entrance to Bnei Brak to protest haredi draft-dodging.

The protestors, all members of The Israeli Forum for the Promotion of Equal Share in the Burden, held up Israeli flags. Some demonstrators also carried signs reading "Must your brothers go to war while you stay here?" "One nation, one draft," "Enough discriminating between blood – repeal the Tal Law," and "A singer, an athlete, and a haredi – we need them all."

For two hours, the protesters tried to draw passersby to their side. However, alongside calls of support, they also heard a few words from the other side.

In one case, several young haredim who stopped to speak with the protesters explained their position.

"There is a God, and God said not to go to the military," one of them said. Another one said that he volunteers in the ZAKA disaster rescue and recovery service "day and night."

An older haredi man got into a long debate with the parents of combat soldiers and explained his viewpoint.

"The problem is that we put a strong emphasis on the military. This is a basic and fundamental mistake. Why, after all, is the world and the Goldstone Report making claims against us? Because our military is there in the first place," he said.

When one protestor replied that military service is entrenched by law, the man responded: "Forget about the law. Yeshiva students don't know how to hold a gun. When I went to enlist, they didn't take me because there was no room. There is an excess of soldiers."

Letter to Knesset members

The Israeli Forum for the Promotion of Equal Share in the Burden is currently establishing an umbrella organization for all youth movements as part of its protest against military evasion.

Daniel Barak, 24, a student from Haifa and a forum activist, told Ynet: "Before Independence Day, we will send a letter of protest to Knesset members arguing that we young people are not willing to see others in the country receiving (rights) without contributing."

Forum leaders plan on holding similar protests every Friday until Memorial Day and Independence Day in locations throughout the country, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv's Shenkin Street.

Forum Chairwoman Miri Baron explained that the group's objective is to increase awareness among the general and haredi public of this controversial subject.

"It's always good to have dialogue, even on street level, so that they know some people are opposed to the situation continuing as it is, and are unwilling to accept that there is a law stipulating mandatory service that does not apply to haredim," she said.

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