Thousands of Jewish ultra-Orthodox men clashed with Israeli police in central Jerusalem on June 30, after protesting for several days against a Supreme Court order for them to begin enlisting for military service.

The landmark June 25 decision, ordering the government to begin drafting ultra-Orthodox men, could lead to the collapse of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition as Israel wages war in Gaza.

Tens of thousands of men rallied in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood to protest the order. But after nightfall, the crowd made its way toward central Jerusalem and turned violent.

The ultra-Orthodox see their full-time religious study as their part in protecting the state. Many fear that greater contact with secular society through the military will distance adherents from strict observance of the faith.

Israeli police said protesters threw rocks and attacked the car of an ultra-Orthodox Cabinet minister, pelting it with stones. Water cannons filled with skunk-scented water and police mounted on horses were used to disperse the crowd.

Military service is compulsory for most Jewish men and women in Israel. But politically powerful ultra-Orthodox parties have won exemptions for their followers to skip military service and instead study in religious seminaries.

The long-standing arrangement has bred resentment among the broader public, a sentiment that has grown stronger during the eight-month war against Hamas. Over 600 soldiers have been killed in fighting, and tens of thousands of reservists have been activated, upending careers, businesses and lives.

Ultra-Orthodox parties and their followers say forcing their men to serve in the army will destroy their generations-old way of life. Also on June 30, thousands of men crowded a square and joined in mass prayers. Many held signs criticizing the government, with one saying “not even one male” should be drafted.

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men blocked a major highway in central Israel for two hours on June 27 to protest enlistment for military service.

Protesters sat on the highway and lay on the ground as police lifted them up, and dragged them away. Officers mounted on horseback charged into the crowd. Many demonstrators held signs and chanted “To prison! Not to the army!”

“We all came here for one goal, we reflect the position of all the Orthodox public,” said a young man, identifying himself only by his first name Ozer. “All the Orthodox public prefers to go to prison and not to the army.”

The ultra-Orthodox parties are key members of Netanyahu’s governing coalition and could potentially force new elections if they decide to leave the government in protest.

Party leaders have not said whether they will leave the government. Doing so could be risky, with Netanyahu’s coalition’s popularity lagging since the October 7 Hamas attack that sparked the war.

Ohad Zwigenberg, Ami Bentov, and MI Staff

Associated Press


Oded Balilty (AP), Ohad Zwigenberg (AP), and Mahmoud Illean (AP)