Israelis rally to protest religious draft deferments
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TEL AVIV, Israel -- Thousands of Israelis rallied Saturday in Tel Aviv to demand the government cancel most draft deferments for ultra-Orthodox Jews and require them to become soldiers or perform community service.
Protesters outside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, numbering at least 20,000 according to Israel police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, voiced their demands on an issue that has galvanized support in a nation that drafts both men and women at age 18.
"I served in the army for 37 years with love and hope, and not for one moment during those long years did I feel like a sucker," Yuval Diskin, a former director of the Shin Bet security services, told the demonstrators. "We are against the payments and budgets that the country pays from out of our pockets to those who do not share the burden.
While the arrangement enabling ultra-Orthodox men to avoid the draft for state-subsidized religious studies has long irritated Israeli veterans, the protest movement has intensified ahead of a July 31 court-ordered deadline to rewrite the law governing deferments.
On Wednesday, a government-appointed committee recommended limiting the number of deferments granted to ultra-Orthodox men for religious studies to 1,500 a year and fining those who try to avoid national service. About 8,500 religious deferments were granted in 2011.
The so-called Plesner Committee released its recommendations even though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to defuse a political crisis surrounding the issue by disbanding the panel after several members resigned in protest.
The Kadima party, which holds the largest number of seats in Israel's parliament, joined Mr. Netanyahu's Likud-led coalition in May after he promised to limit ultra-Orthodox deferments. Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, who heads Kadima, has threatened to pull out of the coalition unless Mr. Netanyahu comes up with a new enlistment policy that substantially reduces the number of ultra-Orthodox deferments.
First Published July 8, 2012 12:30 am