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Ultra-Orthodox Jews rally for alleged draft-dodger found at Israeli nightclub

Hundreds march for Moshe Hazan, arrested trying to enter a Red Sea resort club after allegedly failing to apply for exemption from military
Ultra-orthodox Jews gather for a funeral in Israel (AFP)

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews across Israel have protested in support of an alleged draft-dodging student reportedly arrested in a nightclub wearing secular clothes.

According to reports in Israeli media, 22-year-old Moshe Hazan failed to show up at his yeshiva school in northern Israel and then also failed to report to an army enlistment centre where he was due to apply for an exemption from military service.

However, he was subsequently arrested trying to enter a nightclub in a Red Sea town resort wearing secular clothes.

Under Israeli law, ultra-Orthodox men can exempt themselves from military service but the law has grown increasingly controversial as the ultra-orthodox population has mushroomed and resentment has grown about state support for the Haredim who can also tend to shun work for religious study.

However, following Hazan’s arrest, a prominent rabbi Shmuel Auerbach called on followers to take to the streets to call for his release from army jail where he is believed to be awaiting trial.

“It is obligatory to go out tonight and demonstrate all over the country until the full release of Moshe Hazan, the Torah world’s prisoner who is sanctifying the name of God with his body,” the rabbi said on Wednesday.

Hundreds of mainly young Haredim heeded his call on Wednesday evening and again on Thursday morning. On Wednesday night small clashes with police were reported as protestors reportedly shouted accused the police of being “Nazis” after they arrested 10 demonstrators.

The debate over whether to conscript the Haredim has been escalating in recent years with the former government trying to push through legislation  in 2014 that would force the majority of Haredim men to do military service.

However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu effectively reversed the highly controversial move last year following protests and pressure from his more right-wing coalition partners.

Many critics of the legislation, however, say Israel simply cannot afford to provide opt-outs and special dispensations for religion.

The finance ministry last year found that only 45.7 percent of Haredi men were part of the labour force, substantially less than the national employment rate of 60.4 percent. Only female Palestinian citizens of Israel have a lower rate of participation.

When Israel was first founded the Haredim made up a tiny fraction of the overall state population with the state agreeing to exempt just 400 ultra-Orthodox men from military service.

Today, the figure is closer to 10 percent of the total population of Israel.

The percentage is also set to shift further with 30 percent of all first graders in Israel studying in Haredi schools and the Haredi population growing at more than double the national average.

By 2060, ultra-orthodox are forecast to account for almost 30 percent of the national total.

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