Ultra-Orthodox Protests Against Mandatory Military Service Turn Violent in Jerusalem

A protest against a Supreme Court order mandating military service for ultra-Orthodox Jewish men turned violent in central Jerusalem on Sunday. Thousands of men clashed with Israeli police, throwing rocks and attacking the car of an ultra-Orthodox Cabinet minister. The demonstration, which began with a rally in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, escalated after nightfall, prompting police to use water cannons and mounted officers to disperse the crowd.

The Supreme Court’s ruling last week, which could force ultra-Orthodox men to join the military, has the potential to fracture Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition amidst the ongoing war in Gaza.

Military service is mandatory for most Israelis, but ultra-Orthodox parties, wielding significant political influence, have secured exemptions for their followers, allowing them to pursue religious studies instead. The exemption has stoked discontent among the wider population, particularly amplified by the eight-month war against Hamas, which has seen over 600 soldiers killed and tens of thousands of reservists mobilized, disrupting lives and livelihoods.

The ultra-Orthodox community vehemently opposes the draft, arguing that it will disrupt their traditional way of life. Earlier on Sunday, thousands gathered in a square for mass prayers, many holding signs criticizing the government with slogans like “not even one male” should be drafted.

The ultra-Orthodox parties, key members of Netanyahu’s coalition, could trigger new elections if they withdraw from the government in protest. While party leaders have not announced their decision, doing so could prove risky given the declining popularity of Netanyahu’s coalition since the October 7 Hamas attack that ignited the war.