Over a thousand Charedim gathered in Stamford Hill and Gateshead on Sunday in a show of solidarity with Israel’s ultra-Orthodox who are fighting a plan for yeshiva students to serve in the military.
A huge, simultaneous protest in Jerusalem brought the city to a standstill as up to 400,000 religious Jews held a mass prayer against the withdrawal of their long-established draft exemption.
The move, to force the ultra-Orthodox community’s participation in Israel’s national system of conscription by criminalising their refusal to serve, has been on the cards since last year’s election.
Centrist and nationalist parties, such as Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi, won a handsome share of the vote after promising to make the ultra-Orthodox “share the burden”.
However, the change has been fiercely resisted by those keen to preserve their lifestyle of religious study.
“The army is not our way of life,” said 18-year-old Mordechai Seltzer. “It is not run by our rabbis.”
Charedim comprise one in ten Israelis. The community is characterised by poverty and low levels of workforce participation, but high birth rates mean that it is growing fast.
“This is a cultural show of force,” said 19-year old student Maurice. “The community is growing very fast and the other part of the country is worried. They want to get us into their army. Zionism is not about going into the army.”