Read this letter from Congregation Yetev Lev of Satmar, London, to Boris Johnson, British Member of Parliament and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, regarding the Israeli government's persecution of religious Jews who refuse to enlist in its army.
The Rt. Hon. Boris Johnson MP
Member of Parliament for Uxbridge and South Ruislip
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
House of Commons
3rd May 2018
Dear Mr Johnson,
The Forced Conscription of Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) and the Violation of their Right to Conscientious Objection
Lately there have been growing rates of forced conscription of the Ultra-Orthodox youth, followed by worrying numbers of arrests of conscientious objectors from the community. The policy of forced conscription engenders hostility among police and other authorities toward any person of ultra-orthodox appearance, and thus becomes an instrument of suppression toward the Haredi community in general, and the ultra-orthodox group, named Eidah Haredith in particular.
In this submission, we seek to provide a short review of the human rights violations directed by the Israeli government towards the Eidah Haredith group, the indigenous Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, including forced conscription, violation of indigenous minority rights, violence toward demonstrators and uninvolved passersby alike, and unjustified imprisonment, as well as of an extended pattern of abuse of young people jailed for their refusal to enlist. As will become apparent below, this violence is directed at all members of the Eidah Haredith, women as well as men. Raids and arrests of demonstrators and individuals absconding from military service have become a common, almost everyday event.
The Eidah Haredith - Short Background
The Eidah Haredith is the indigenous Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, with deep historical roots in Israel-Palestine, prior to the establishment of the state of Israel, as part of what was called “Hayeshuv Hayashan” (the old settlement).With its own social institutions, distinct customs, culture and religious rules, it is functioning as separately as possible from the State. The community’s literature perceives the community’s moral role as immanently contradicting the use of force, violence and bloodshed. The history of the community in the Jewish diaspora, and nowhere in the world (other than in Israel) has the Haredi community been forced to break their inner structures and codes.
As to Israel – the community religiously objects to any taking of power by Jewish hands as such, and therefore sees the Zionist project, of establishing a Jewish state with coercive power, as blasphemy. The community consists of approximately 150,000 people in Israel (the general population of Israel is estimated at 8.7 million), its' members speak Yiddish and live in segregated neighborhoods (mainly in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak and Beit Shemesh). The community doesn't participate in the Israeli elections and refuses to receive governmental subsidies and financial support for its institutions, insisting on surviving independently and separately from the state even when this stresses them financially. In fact, the community also differs from some other Ultra-Orthodox communities which have adopted a less segregationist approach and take some part in public affairs such as representation in the Israeli parliament, an institute that the Eidah Haredith rejects as much as the State of Israel itself.
Hence, service in the Israeli army, which is one of the central institutions of the Zionist project and a core symbol of Statehood, is a violation of the deepest principles of the community.
Recent Developments in the Conscription of the Ultra-Orthodox Community
While military service in Israel is formally mandatory, since the establishment of the State it has been the general policy of the government not to enlist the members of communities that are structurally alienated from the Zionist project, such as the Arab citizens of Israel and it deliberately not enforce military service for the ultra-orthodox. In 1948, the first Prime Minister of Israel, Ben Gurion, was obliged to reach a status quo agreement that postponed their conscription as long as they were considered students of the religious institution, the “yeshiva”. In this manner, the whole Orthodox community continued living their separate life, uninvolved with the State or the Israeli military.
This status quo agreement has been broken recently by Israel, which reformed the Military Service Law in a way that turns the Eidah Haredith youth into criminals, and sends dozens of them to prison each month solely for their refusal to serve in the military on the basis of their beliefs. The Revised Military Service Law of 2015 include possibilities for exemption from military service, but these possibilities were narrowed, and conscription quotas were set (in 2017 the quotas were set to 3200 conscripts to military service and 2000 to join the civil
service) and gradually increased. The law consists of two adaptation periods: the current period, until 2020, which was portrayed as a first adaptation period in which quotas should supposedly be reached with consent, while from the year 2020 more drastic measures will be implemented to enlist the Ultra-Orthodox community, be it by consent or not.
The new draft regime is especially discriminatory against the Eidah Haredith. The quotas of the exempts and postponements of military service by the new law are distributed by an advisory committee of Rabbis, comprised of Rabbis of the religious parties in the Israeli Parliament (the "Knesset"). The Eidah Haredith, which rejects, as mentioned above, the idea of a Jewish state and any relations of their community to state power, is not represented in the Knesset and is not part of any of the parliamentary parties. And hereafter came about the present situation of the obvious absurdity: the change in legislation resulted in the stronger enforcement of the draft laws, and had a devastating effect on the Eidah Haredith institutions, being that they are not recognized by the government and they will not grant them any exemptions.
As the youth of the Eidah Haredith were educated upon the community's beliefs, many of them have refused to betray these principals upon which they were raised. Therefore, the result of the new law and the growing rates of conscription during the past years has been that hundreds if not thousands of Eidah Haredith youth carry a criminal record for desertion right as they turn 18, and start their adult life in perpetual fear of the police. A whole generation of the Eidah Haredith community lives in hiding.
The Minority Rights of the Eidah Haredith
The concerted State campaign around conscription is more than an effort to enforce the law on certain individuals who refuse to enlist. It is a politically motivated campaign with the aim to assimilate the segregated communities, with the most anti-militarist, pacifist and anti-Zionist ultra-religious community into the hegemonic secular social structure of society in Israel. The means which the state is taking to reach the assimilation of the Eidah Haredith is conscription in the military, which is known as the Israeli society's "melting pot".
Furthermore, when enlisting, one must swear loyalty to the State of Israel, its politics and policies. The Torah religion of Eidah Haredith is diametrically opposite to the Zionist culture and politics. The Torah principle is to live in peace and harmony with ones' neighbors. Eidah Haredith members are strictly prohibited to expressing support for the Zionist doctrine of aggression, land grabs and ruling others by force.
The Eidah Haredith community is under grave threat which hinders its ability to preserve its deeply rooted culture, heritage, and linguistic and religious traditions. In the struggle to maintain its unique identity, the community pays a heavy price through the violation of its members' basic dignity and human rights, fundamental freedoms, practices and beliefs. This intolerable condition harms not only the community itself but also contradicts the interests of a free, democratic society in which human rights, social stability and cultural diversity are valued.
In light of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (article 27), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, etc., the Eidah Haredith has the right to preserve its traditions, religious practices, community structure and language. The community deserves polytechnic rights, self-government rights and an internal self-determination, which would allow it to keep on existing as a minority inside Israel, but without assimilating in the civil society and without having direct relations with the Israeli government.
These rights, which are under the serious threat of the new Military Service Law, should be especially protected since the Eidah Haredith is an indigenous minority, with deep roots in the land of Israel-Palestine, centuries before the foundation of the state of Israel.
Arbitrary Detention and Unlawful Punitive Measures taken against Conscientious Objectors of the Eidah Haredith and Police Brutality
The terms of the new Military Service Law have turned many of the Eidah Haredith youth into criminals, solely for their conscientious objection to conscription, and have led to dozens of them being arrested and sent to prison each month. When an individual who has not obeyed a conscription order is captured by the police, the police hands him over to the military police, which in turn sends them to the military court, which sends them to military prison.
During 2017, at least a dozen Haredi conscientious objectors were sent to military prison each month, some of whom have also been victims of brutal violence by the military and degrading punishments which amounts to torture according to Article 1 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). The military had also infringed basic rights of the community member’s right to freedom of religion, and deprived them of praying articles, proper kosher food, etc. The military's treatment in these cases was profoundly insufficient, and effectively offered impunity to the perpetrators.
Even though numerous complaints were submitted to the military authorities and introduced to the military courts, no change is being seen. The ongoing discrimination and human rights violations against the Haredi prisoners do not seem to end in the close future.
In addition to the military's harsh treatment towards conscientious objectors, the Eidah Haredith is witnessing unleashed police brutality and violence in its protests and demonstrations against the new Military Service Law. Such brutality has never been seen before against Jewish protestors in Israel (unfortunately such practices are often directed towards Palestinian protestors). The Israeli police was documented using disproportionate violence, tear-gas, "Skunk" (water cannon shooting extremely strong stream of stinking liquid, liable to cause physical harm) and other means to suppress the Haredi protests against conscription. By doing so, the Israeli police brutally violates the Haredi freedom of assembly and right to protest.
1. Investigate all allegations regarding violation of CAT, degrading punishments and violence in the military prisons. The investigation must be independent, striving for justice to victims, punishment to abusers and prevention of any violations in the future.
2. Allow full freedom of religion to all Haredi conscientious objector prisoners, including ability to pray according to their beliefs, access to proper kosher food and prevention of any violation of religious rules forced on the prisoners by the military authorities.
3. Grant the Eidah Haredith with full freedom of protest, stop police brutality and disproportionate violence in the community's demonstrations against the Military Service Law, and investigate all past events of such brutality.
4. Discharge all Eidah Haredith youth from military service and release all conscientious objectors who are in prison, as part of recognition of the Eidah Haredith community's cultural and self-government rights and an indigenous minority.
We are looking to find a resolution and I would welcome the opportunity to meet you to discuss this issue. Please let me know if you would be able to find the time to meet in your busy schedule.