JERUSALEM — Ultra-Orthodox Jews protesting the military draft is nothing new in Israel, but a young woman using karate chops and kung-fu kicks to push back a crowd of angry young men might just be a first.
Meet Nomi Golan.
On Monday night, Golan, an off-duty soldier, attempted to guide a car through a violent protest that erupted in Jerusalem after two yeshiva students were arrested by the army for not showing up at the military recruitment office.
Ultra-Orthodox students have long been exempt from serving in the military, but they must still present themselves to the army with a letter from their school — something a number refuse to do.
The video of Golan fending off a group of men as they cursed at her, calling her a “shiksa” (a non-Jewish woman) and a whore and spitting at her, has caught the attention of both secular and ultra-Orthodox or Haredi media in Israel.
It was featured by mainstream news outlets and shared widely on social media Tuesday, as the protests by one of the more extreme Haredi sects continued for a second day.
Nearly 60 people were arrested in Jerusalem and Bnei Barak, near Tel Aviv, in protests, police said.
In an interview in Hebrew with local media, Golan said she had stopped to help the car pass through the protest. Her goal, she said, was to approach the protest’s leaders and tell them to back off.
“They attacked me, so as a soldier, a civilian, an old woman, young or no matter what role I or what I was wearing, I defended myself as I would in any other situation,” she said, according to the Facebook page First Report.
In these protests, groups of ultra-Orthodox young men block major roads and spit and hurl insults at passing motorists to draw attention to their anger over having to register for military service.
All Jewish men and women, as well as Druze men, are required to serve in the army at the age of 18. Only Israeli Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews receive an exemption. It’s a point that has caused tension in recent years, as those who do serve feel they are shouldering more of the country’s burden.
When long-standing legislation automatically exempting some 54,000 full-time yeshiva students from the draft expired several years ago, protests by the ultra-Orthodox against the army became commonplace.
In response, the previous government extended the law until this year, insisting that the sector be eased into military service with the implementation of enlistment quotas and criminal sanctions for those who refused to serve.
However, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined forces with the ultra-Orthodox political parties in the present government, the plan for sanctions was removed and the law extended once again until 2020. In September, a legal petition filed to Israel’s Supreme Court struck down this new arrangement, saying it would expire within a year.
Mainstream Haredi groups, those who are represented in Israel’s parliament, have in the meantime been looking for alternative solutions. One sect, however, led by 86-year Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, has consistently refused to cooperate at all with the state or the army, said Israel Cohen, a journalist and commentator for the Haredi news website Kikar Shabat.
Cohen said that Auerbach’s yeshiva students were instructed not to respond to call up papers or even request the exemption as is required from the ultra-Orthodox. When two of Auerbach’s students were arrested Sunday for not showing up at the military recruitment offices, his followers took to the streets in protest.