Haredi Leadership Prepares ‘Million Man March’ Against Draft Law

In a rare occurrence, the leaders from all of the various Haredi sects met last night (Monday) in order to plan a huge protest against the draft law which is set to take place next week. MK Gafni: “We said upfront that we would not allow one Yeshivah student to be drafted and we are unwilling to lend a hand in harming the world of Torah study”.
Haredi council last night. Photo Credit: Eli Koban

The central leadership from three different sects in the Haredi community: the Lithuanian Haredim, the Hassidics and the Sephardic Haredim all agreed in a joint meeting last night (Monday) that they will oppose cooperation with the draft by all necessary means. During the historic conference in Bnei Brak last night, the leadership agreed that a massive protest should be held, with the intention that it remain a giant and peaceful prayer service, and not disintegrate into a violent protest.

The central topic of the conference was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Haredi members of the Knesset from the ‘Jewish Torah’ and Shas parties heavily criticized Netanyahu for his silence regarding the draft law and his willingness to ‘give in’ to demands made by ‘Yesh Atid’ party members in induce criminal sanctions against draft-dodgers.

The Rabbi Shteinman, the central leader of the Lithuanian Haredi community, stated at the conference, “There are three crimes which have been committed here, but disgracing the name of God is the worst of them all. What the government is doing against the Yeshivah students is disgracing the name of God. It is inconceivable that someone who dare to interfere in the study of Torah because this is what makes up our lives. The Holy One will help us to see that those that are trying to stop us from learning Torah will fail in their efforts”.

MK Moshe Gafni (Jewish Torah Party) said, “We said upfront that we would not allow even one Yeshivah student to be drafted and we are unwilling to lend a hand in the harming of the world of Torah study. Therefore, there is no option left to us but to begin a war against this new law”. MK Eli Yishai (Shas) said that in his conversations with Netanyahu in the past months, the Prime Minister promised him that we would see to it that criminal sanctions are not made part of the bill and therefore “the finger should be pointed at him”.

Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter added, “We should issue a statement saying that not one of the students of Torah will go to the army in any fashion, not civil service and nor anything else. It needs to come out of here. Everyone here shares the same belief”. The Rabbi Shalom Cohen, a member of the Torah Elders council in Shas, claimed that, “The press is instigating the public against Yeshivah students, which has hurt the Sephardic community”. Cohen added in tears that he “ask[s] that a decision be made in the council that no one will serve in the army or anywhere, their money means nothing to us, we only care about the Torah”.

Poster publishing the protest, against Bibi.

Speaking in two voices

The decision to hold a conference of the Haredi Torah Elders and the announcement of the protests comes despite the draft law and not because of it. Knesset members who were part of the Shaked Committee and even those who were not a part of it, but were present behind the scenes, know well that the final draft of law was the lightest and least severe possible that the committee could possibly come up with.

In private conversations in past weeks many Haredi leaders expressed their satisfaction with the results of the Shaked Committee, however due to fears of criticism, mainly from the more conservative and extreme branches of their sects, the leaders of the Haredi community have decided to pursue their million-man protest next week.

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