The Event was Organized in Protest of Israel’s Forcible Military Draft and Persecution of Religious Jews
BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Roughly 20,000 gathered together on Sunday, June 11th, at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center to demonstrate against the state of Israel’s policy of forcibly drafting religious Jews, and crushing any peaceful opposition with brutal police crackdowns and imprisonment. The gathering was organized by the Central Rabbinical Congress of the United States and Canada, and it was also headlined by an international delegation of Rabbinic leaders from countries including Israel, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Canada and Argentina. It also served as a kick-off for the international Let Our People Go campaign to raise awareness on the issue and to call for international intervention.
Rabbi David Niederman, Intergovernmental Liaison for the Central Rabbinical Congress, stated: “Israel’s policy violates our right as conscientious objectors in regard to military service. Religious Jews oppose to the creation of the State of Israel before the coming of Messiah, and they can’t serve in its army. Additionally military is incompatible with the observance of Torah and Mitzvos (religious service),” said Rabbi Niederman. “International law under Section 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights demands for exemption of military service based on ones’ sincerely held conscience. Unfortunately, it is a right that the Israeli government has withheld from our community.”
Since the state’s founding in 1948, yeshiva (religious seminary) students were exempted from military service. That exemption expired in 2014 and since then, the Israel Defense Forces has started to forcibly draft the Orthodox community. The Let Our People Go campaign was created in order to pressure the Israeli government to rescind the new draft law. “It is nearly impossible to remain an observant Jew in the Israeli military,” said Samuel Stern, of Let Our People Go. “The early Zionist leaders created the IDF not only as a means of self-defense but also as a means to indoctrinate new citizens with a nationalistic way of thinking… that’s not what Judaism is about.”
The past several months has seen a drastic increase in violence as the Israeli government has stepped up efforts to draft the religious community. Peaceful protests have been broken up with tear gas and batons; men, women, and children have been arrested on false charges; and in May, 28 employees of an Orthodox newspaper were arrested for publishing content that was critical of the IDF’s drafting policy.
“We want the international community to recognize our right to refuse military service and to exert pressure on the Israeli government to grant our brothers and sisters in Israel the most basic freedoms,” said Niederman. “Israel claims that it is the only democracy in the Middle East, but terrorizing innocent citizens because they don’t want to fight in the army is not behavior that one would expect from a democracy.”
Various speakers and Rabbinic leaders called upon the international community to hold Israel accountable for its actions and to pressure them to restore freedom of expression and peaceful assembly for its religious citizens, something that the international Jewish community has long been advocating for.
One of the rally’s speakers, Rabbi Yakov Shapiro of Bayswater, NY, explained the event’s purpose: “Ben Gurion called the Israeli army a ‘melting pot.’ He said it was designed to – quote – ‘clean, refine and purify’ the Jews of their ‘foreign garbage’; to ‘educate’ them and provide them ‘cultural elevation.’ Sounds more like a rehab than an army. Indeed it is!” Shapiro concluded with a defiant message: “What the IDF wants to rehabilitate us from, we would give our lives to retain.”