Haredi ultra-orthodox protesters demonstrated against compulsory military service for yeshiva students in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem on Sunday, November 19, and Monday, November 20, leading to dozens of arrests and traffic disruptions. According to local media reports, around 2000 protesters obstructed Jabotinsky Street and other major roads in Bnei Brak on Monday, resulting in significant traffic disruptions. Ultra-orthodox anti-draft demonstrations have also erupted in Beit Shemesh, leading to traffic disruptions, according to local media reports. The demonstrations have resulted in clashes with Israeli police forces; police have reportedly sprayed the protesters with water cannons and used other anti-riot tactics to try to disperse the protests. At least 28 ultra-orthodox protesters have been arrested in Bnei Brak, and 13 others have been arrested in Jerusalem since the protests began on Sunday.
The protests come after the Jaffa Military Court recently sentenced 11 yeshiva students to 90 days in jail after they refused to undergo the bureaucratic process to obtain an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) service exemption. Continued protests, heightened security measures, and consequent traffic disruptions are expected in Bnei Brak, Jerusalem, and Beit Shemesh in the coming hours.
On October 23, thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested against compulsory military service, blocking main roads in Jerusalem, disrupting traffic and train services, and reportedly clashing with police. Numerous demonstrations have taken place since September, when Israel's Supreme Court struck down a 2015 law that granted exemptions from military service to ultra-Orthodox men; however, the Court suspended its decision for one year to allow for new arrangements to be made.
Ultra-Orthodox Israelis have historically been able to claim exemption from military service. However, growing segments of Israel's general population resent this exemption, prompting the state to attempt to adapt military service to accommodate ultra-Orthodox recruits. The new policies have been met with significant pushback by members of the ultra-Orthodox community. Related protests against the draft, some of which have turned violent, have taken place in recent months and intensified in recent weeks. On October 19, thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, and Beit Shemesh - cities home to large ultra-Orthodox populations - and some 120 protesters were arrested.
Individuals in Israel are advised to monitor developments to the situation and to avoid all protests due to the risk of violent escalation.
More generally, due to the ongoing terrorist threat, travelers in Israel and throughout the region are advised to report any suspicious objects or behavior to the authorities and to remain vigilant when visiting sites deemed particularly likely to be targeted in an attack (public transportation, train stations, ports, airports, public or government buildings, embassies or consulates, international organizations, schools and universities, religious sites, markets, hotels and restaurants frequented by foreigners/Westerners, etc.). As a reminder, several Western governments advise their citizens against all travel to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and areas near the Lebanese, Syrian, and Egyptian borders.