Our Israel office reports that hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox rallied today at the entrance to Jerusalem against the proposed military and national service draft law. Organizers said 500,000 people (police say 300,000) gathered for what was likely the largest protest in the country’s history for a massive rally of prayer, lamentations and singing. The sounds of the rally could be clearly heard echoing throughout Jerusalem even as far as east Jerusalem neighborhoods and the German Colony. Authorities closed the entrance to Jerusalem and many of its surrounding neighborhoods, essentially shutting down the city.
Granted permission to leave their studies on Sunday, hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox boarded hundreds of buses to Jerusalem from around the country in a display of unity among the various ultra-Orthodox factions. Leading Ultra-orthodox figures arrived in Jerusalem to lead the rally including the 100-year-old leader of the non-Hassidic Ashkenazi community Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, who rarely leaves his home. Gatherers held up Purim-themed flyers and signs that equated the danger facing Queen Esther and the Jews of Persia with the plight of the ultra-Orthodox community today.
JFNA Staff on the ground reported that the rally was peaceful due to the advanced organization and cooperation between the rally organizers and Israeli Police. No speeches were given by the ultra-Orthodox leadership, who hoped to maintain moderation and order.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein issued a statement saying “"There is currently record-high tension between groups in society and I fear for the unity of our nation; the purpose of the law is to justly bring equality, but if the result is a civil war, we will not achieve anything."
The latest version of the “Equal Sharing of the Burden” proposal has faced scathing criticism from across the political spectrum over its incorporation of criminal sanctions for draft dodgers, special treatment for religious-Zionist Yeshivot and for delaying implementation until 2017, after the next round of national elections.
President + CEO, JFNA