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Ultra-Orthodox Jews clash with Israeli police over army draft

Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jews took to the streets of Jerusalem after a court struck down a law that shielded them from serving in the army. Several of the protesters were arrested for scuffling with the police.

Protester sits down in the street while being sprayed by police water canon (Reuters/R. Zvulun )

Riot police used water cannons to disperse the crowd of several hundred people on Sunday, after some of the protesters attempted to block roads in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighborhood. The neighborhood is known stronghold of ultra-Orthodox Jews.

"Eight rioters who used violence against police were arrested," the police said in a statement issued in Hebrew.

"They lay down in the road, shouting slogans against the police, some of them threw stones," it added.

Hardline rabbis addressed the crowd in Yiddish during the rally, with a banner saying "We're Jews and therefore will not enlist in the Zionist army," also visible in the crowd.

The protest is linked with the decision of Israel's Supreme Court from earlier this week. In it, the judges ruled against a law that exempts some ultra-Orthodox Jews from serving in the army.

Serving through prayer?

An ultra-Orthodox Jew shouting during the rally in Jerusalem (Reuters/R. Zvulun )

The ultra-Orthodox leaders say seminary students must focus on preserving Jewish religion

Members of the Jewish hardline minority have long managed to evade mandatory army service. Their leaders cite religious reasons for this practice, arguing that people engaged in religious study also serve the nation through study and prayer. Serving in the military would also compel ultra-Orthodox Jews to break some of the community's strict rules, including those on contact with women and secular Jews.

While ultra-Orthodox Jews currently make up about 10 percent of the country's population, the group is characterized by very high birth rate. With about seven children per average woman, government projects they would reach 29 percent of the population by 2050.

Read more: Ultra-Orthodox women in Israel are ready for 'feminism'

'Conscription is for everybody'

Two policeman carry an ultra-Orthodox Jewish youth during the protest in Jerusalem (Reuters/R. Zvulun )

Israel demands military service at the age of 18

All non-Orthodox Jewish men in Israel are obliged to serve two years and eight months in the Israeli army, with women serving two. Opposition politicians in Israel have often spoken out against the decision to exempt the ultra-Orthodox community, saying it undermined equality.

However, ultra-Orthodox parties form a key part of Benjamin Netanyahu's ruling coalition and the government is likely to mobilize to keep the exemption in place.

Commenting on the Tuesday ruling, opposition leader Yair Lapid said that Netanyahu would not be able to "wriggle out" of it.

"Military conscription is for everybody, not only for the suckers who don't have a party in his coalition," said Lapid, who leads the secular Yesh Atid party.

dj/kl (AFP, AP)

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