Ultra-Orthodox block traffic in Israel draft protest

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox men have blocked a major Jerusalem intersection, crippling public transportation across the city, in a demonstration against an attempt to force a community member to comply with the country’s mandatory military draft.

The demonstrators formed a large circle on the tracks of the city’s light rail, singing, dancing and praying.

Train service was halted and traffic was backed up for blocks.

The demonstration was a precursor of a looming battle over the country’s military draft.

Military service is compulsory for Jewish males but politically powerful ultra-Orthodox parties have won exemptions for their communities to allow men to study full-time in religious seminaries.

These exemptions have prompted widespread anger and resentment from the secular majority.

With the government working on a new draft law, ultra-Orthodox parties, which are a key coalition partner of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hope to strengthen the system of exemptions.

Opponents, including key members of a mass protest movement against Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul, say the exemptions are unfair and must end.

Although young ultra-Orthodox men are generally exempt from military service, they must still register with the army.

Israeli media said Wednesday’s protest was triggered by the arrest of a young religious man who refused to file the paperwork.

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