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Ultra-Orthodox protest draft bill in Israel

Ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered for a mass prayer to protest the government’s plan to require them to serve in the military.

ABIR SULTAN/european pressphoto agency

Ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered for a mass prayer to protest the government’s plan to require them to serve in the military.

JERUSALEM — More than 300,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews rallied Sunday in the streets of Jerusalem, blocking roads and paralyzing the city in a massive show of force against plans to require them to serve in the Israeli military.

Since Israel’s founding in 1948, the ultra-Orthodox, who make up about 8 percent of Israel’s 8 million citizens, largely have been allowed to avoid military service, compulsory for most Jewish men, to pursue their religious studies. Older men often don’t work and collect welfare stipends while continuing to study full time.

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The exemption has enraged secular Israelis who say the ultra-Orthodox are not doing their fair share.

The issue of military service for the ultra-Orthodox featured prominently in last year’s election, which led to the establishment of a center-right government that has been pushing for reforms that will require ultra-Orthodox to serve in the army.

Parliament is expected to vote on the conscription bill this month.

In a separate development, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu headed to Washington for a meeting tomorrow with President Obama about US-led Mideast peace efforts.

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