Orthodox protesting against IDF conscription get ‘skunk sprayed’

Strictly-Orthodox young Jewish men will now no longer be exempt from serving in the Israeli military, the country’s High Court has ruled


Police clash with demonstrators during a protest against the recruitment of Ultra orthodox Jews to the IDF, Jerusalem, June 30, 2024 (Credit: Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men protesting mandatory army conscription have been sprayed with skunk-scented water outside the Israeli supreme court.

Israel’s High Court reached a unanimous 9-0 ruling on Tuesday that said the government must draft strictly Orthodox men into the military, and called the current exemption scheme which officially expired last year, whereby ultra-Orthodox men of serving age are granted deferrals to enter Jewish seminary, “unconstitutional”.

Israel’s High Court of Justice concluded that pressure for manpower in the country’s ongoing war in Gaza was such that the exclusion of ultra-Orthodox men should be scrapped.

“At the height of a difficult war, the burden of inequality is more than ever acute,” the court’s landmark ruling stated.

The court did not elaborate on how many yeshiva students will be made to enlist but said conscription would be rolled out “gradually”, beginning with 3,000 this year. It is estimated that some 63,000 students are currently enrolled in yeshivas and theoretically now legally subject to the draft.

Hundreds of strictly Orthodox protesters have for several months been attempting to disrupt daily life in Israel through road protests and demonstrations against the expiration of the exemption law. They have held banners reading “Death before conscription” and “Not even one male”, believing that military service is incompatible with their way of life and fearing that those who do enlist will be secularised.

Pictures of the at least six ultra-Orthodox men being sprayed with skunk spray on Sunday night was circulated widely around Israel as emblematic of the ruling coming into force.

The crowd-control substance used, a concoction of water, baking powder, yeast and a putrid smell, is non-lethal and used by the IDF to control large demonstrations. Police mounted on horses were also used to disperse the crowd, which began to rally in the ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood of Mea Shearim and marched towards central Jerusalem.

The previous government arrangement that allowed for strictly-Orthodox exemption came into existence under David Ben Gurion around the time of the establishment of the state of Israel. Some 400 senior yeshiva students were temporarily spared from serving in the army so long as their sole occupation was studying the Torah.

Over the years, as the Israeli population grew, the number of Charedi men eligible for the exemption under the arrangement grew significantly, from an estimated 800 men in 1968 to over 41,000 in 2005, becoming a contentious political issue in the country.

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