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Court ruling revives debate on military draft for Israel's ultra-Orthodox

File photo shows Israeli soldier at Western Wall as he stand next to praying ultra-Orthodox Jews
A ruling by Israel's High Court has infuriated the ultra-Orthodox and highlighted a longstanding social rift

It's a battle that goes back to Israel's War of Independence, and there's still no true solution on the horizon.

The country's High Court of Justice ruled on Tuesday that the government's most recent policy of exempting ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students from mandatory service in the military doesn't pass muster.

The coalition has a year to fix it, or all members of the ultra-Orthodox community will be subject to the draft when they turn 18, like the rest of Israel's young Jewish citizens.

Israel's founding father, David Ben-Gurion, granted the initial exemption while Israel was fighting for its existence. The ultra-Orthodox, or "Haredim", said they would be an army for God.

Over time, the number of yeshiva students exploded, and with that, political considerations led to expanded exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox. This caused an ever-widening rift in Israeli society –a society in which secular and religious Zionist Jews serve in the military, while the ultra-Orthodox study scripture.

A revolution of sorts took place under Israel's previous government coalition, with a law passed that would start easing the ultra-Orthodox into the army through quotas.


Even with those changes, progress still fell short of required benchmarks. The current coalition, with the push of the ultra-Orthodox political parties, watered down the law to the point where the court thought it lacked enough bite to be effective and failed to prevent discrimination between the ultra-Orthodox and the rest of Jewish society.

"Today we begin turning the rudder of the Israeli ship toward sanity and values," said Yair Lapid, a lawmaker and chairman of the Yesh Atid party who sponsored the quota law. "This is why we got into politics. Enlistment for all, work for all. Benjamin Netanyahu can’t keep on being evasive. Enlistment in the IDF is for everyone. Everyone. Not just for suckers who don't have a party sitting in his coalition."

The ultra-Orthodox parties, whose influence over life in Israel has grown in recent years, are up in arms at the latest decision.


The High Court once again proved that it’s grabbing power by force and we have to do everything to save the country and take from it the power it seized illegally," said Yisrael Eichler, a legislator from ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism. "There's no law in the world allowing one to overrule the laws of the Israeli parliament."

While some feel that a failure to pass a new law acceptable to both the ultra-Orthodox and the High Court could lead to the breakup of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition, a year is a lifetime in Israeli politics – especially with a prime minister with a cloud looming over his head. The most likely outcome in a year is more extensions, more exemptions, more stalling, more hearings, and more divisions within Israeli society between the army for God and the army for the defense of Israel.

Mike Wagenheim is a diplomatic correspondent for i24NEWS.




Let them use their mind to defend G-D and their body to defend Israel.

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