Israel’s Supreme Court rules out ending military exemption for ultra-Orthodox | International

Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled this Tuesday with a unanimous decision by its nine judges that the government has an obligation to recruit ultra-Orthodox who are studying. Yeshivot (religious seminaries) and are exempt from the mandatory military service that the rest of the country’s Jews complete. The decision will have potential consequences for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as his coalition relies on the support of two parties that represent this population group and categorically reject the nomination.

The judges say the general exemption “generates serious discrimination” and lacks a legal framework. And therefore, the executive does not have the power to order the army not to call up people of the service age group. The Supreme Court also confirmed its temporary ruling last March, forcing the state to stop transferring funds to madrassas where students should enroll.

The verdict includes previous reasoning, but it is influenced by an important new element: the invasion of Gaza. “These days, in the midst of a severe war, the burden of inequality is more serious than ever and there is a need to promote a lasting solution to this issue,” the judges said.

The exemption divides the country socially and politically and has been involved in legal battles for more than a decade, but it has come to the fore again in recent months with a massive mobilisation (the largest reserve in Israeli history) following the attack by Hamas last October. When the Jewish state was born in 1948, and its founding father, the secular David Ben Gurion, agreed the exemption with ultra-Orthodox leaders, it consisted of barely 400 students and a group representing 5% of the population.

Today, they make up 13% of the nearly ten million Israelis. And – with an average of about seven children – they will reach 32% in 2065 (according to estimates by the Central Statistical Office). In a very emotional way, they do not go into the ranks, this is incomprehensible to the most Jewish and secular Israelis, which for years has been demanding in demonstrations what it calls “equality of burden”: that they enlist (or substitute social service), pay taxes and have the same right to public wealth as they do.

The magistrate does not explain how the decision should be made, nor how many ultra-Orthodox should be enlisted. It is estimated that this sentence affects about 63,000 people between 18 and 24 years old. And the army already expected to enlist 3,000 of them this year. The judge, in fact, opens the door to “gradual enlistment”, thereby eliminating the possibility of an immediate government crisis.

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The decision is no surprise, but it is a setback for Netanyahu, who would be in the minority without the support of his two ultra-Orthodox allies: the Sephardic Shas and the Ashkenazi United Torah Judaism. They have been part of his coalition since 2022, along with the extreme right, and have been his allies for years.

In March, the prime minister announced he had not been able to reach an agreement to renew the waiver and the Supreme Court entered the case. Now, if he insists on complying with the court’s ruling, he will lose the ultra-Orthodox and be forced to hold early elections, which most Israelis demand and which he describes as a “gift to Hamas” in time of war. Earlier in the month, he lost the support of Benny Gantz due to differences over the Gaza offensive. He was one of the opposition ministers who joined the unity executive created to manage the war for eight months and which has now been dissolved because it no longer makes sense.

Even before the verdict, Moshe Gafni, a representative of United Torah Judaism, assured that the court had never ruled “in favor of the students”. Yeshivot” Because none of their judges “understand the value of the study of the Torah (Pentateuch) and the contribution it has made to the people of Israel in each generation.” There was already a law in 2002 to regulate their recruitment and exemption conditions, but the Supreme Court overturned it and declared the exemption unconstitutional in 2017.

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