Tens of thousands of Jews protested in New York City on Sunday against plans by Israel to draft ultra-Orthodox Jews into the IDF. The mass rally in Manhattan's Foley Square drew an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 participants mainly from New York’s Hassidic community. Almost all protestors were men. Some 2,000 rabbis sat on special platform, and 300 NYPD policemen secured the event.
Protesters held signs which read "The Israeli draft law is an attack on freedom of religion”, and one speaker portrayed the conscription effort as only the latest in a series of failed attempts throughout history to destroy Judaism. Demonstrators were mostly from two factions of Satmar Hasidim, an anti-Zionist sect within the ultra-Orthodox community whose members are typically are at odds but came together on this issue. Recently, Satmar leader Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum said enlistment was worse than the annihilation of the Jewish people.
Organizers tried to hide anti-Zionist sentiments and focus only on the anti-draft message during the two-hour rally. Speakers on the stage repeatedly asked the crowd to put away any signs with messages against the State of Israel, and there were at least three cases in which protesters physically took down anti-Zionist signs held up by other protestors, according to a ‘Forward’ report.
Before the rally, the Rabbinical Council of America, which represents mainstream Orthodoxy, published a statement condemning the protest and said it was anti-Israel. In a press release, RCA Executive Vice-President Rabbi Mark Dratch called on all Jews to “redouble their efforts to explain to their fellow Americans their commitment to the Jewish state and its central position in their thinking, even when they find fault with certain positions of its government, as happens with the policies of any true democracy.”
Two weeks ago, an Israeli government committee approved a proposal to phase out wholesale exemptions from military service for ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, which was one of the main issues in the Israeli election campaign earlier this year.