The protesters gathered Thursday night near the city’s military draft bureau to hear rabbis warn that army service would irreparably harm their way of life.
“The government wants to uproot and secularize us,” Rabbi David Zycherman said, according to Reuters, “They call it a melting pot, but people cannot be melted.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government has committed to expanding the draft to include haredi men, most of whom receive exemptions on religious grounds.
The strong showing in January’s election by Yesh Atid, the party of Finance Minister Yair Lapid, was attributed in large part to pledges to resist demands by Orthodox parties and spread the burden of army service and taxation more evenly across Israeli society.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said at least 20,000 protesters took part in Thursday’s demonstrations. There were about a dozen arrests after protesters hurled bottles and stones at officers, some on horseback, Rosenfeld said. Police used stun grenades to quell the unrest. A water cannon was also deployed when protesters set a garbage bin on fire. At least six officers required medical treatment and two were taken to hospital, Rosenfeld said.
Most Israeli women and men are subject to two to three years of mandatory military once they turn 18. Exceptions are made for most Arab citizens of Israel as well as haredi Orthodox men and women.