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Israeli Politics

Israel Expects Turmoil in Wake of Its High Court Mandating Ultra-Orthodox Military Service, Shaking Political Landscape

For decades, a system of exemptions has allowed ultra-Orthodox men, also known as Haredi Jews, to dedicate themselves solely to religious studies

Ultra-Orthodox Haredim

Ultra-Orthodox Pray at the Kotel

In a landmark decision with far-reaching consequences, Israel’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Tuesday that ultra-Orthodox men must be drafted into the military. This verdict throws Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition into uncertainty, adding another layer of complexity to an already tense political climate. The ongoing conflict in Gaza, now stretching into its eighth month, has further exacerbated the pre-existing social and political divide in Israel.

“At the height of a difficult war, the burden of inequality is more than ever acute,” said Israel’s Supreme Court in its unanimous ruling.

For decades, a system of exemptions has allowed ultra-Orthodox men, also known as Haredi Jews, to dedicate themselves solely to religious studies. This arrangement, rooted in historical compromise, has long been a source of resentment among the secular population. Many secular Israelis view the exemption as unfair, arguing that all citizens should share the burden of national defense. This sentiment has only intensified during the ongoing war, where the Israeli military is stretched thin, with over 600 soldiers having lost their lives. The need for additional manpower has further stoked public frustration with the exemption system.

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The ramifications of the Supreme Court’s decision extend far beyond the realm of military service. Ultra-Orthodox political parties, wielding significant influence due to their sizable voting bloc, have been crucial partners in Netanyahu’s governing coalition. These parties vehemently oppose any changes to the exemption system, viewing it as an essential protection for their religious way of life. Following the court’s ruling, these parties have threatened to withdraw from the coalition, potentially triggering a government collapse and new elections.

The crux of the court’s decision hinges on the lack of a specific law exempting Haredi seminary students from mandatory military service. In its statement, the court emphasized that “the state does not have the authority to order a blanket avoidance of their conscription” and must adhere to the provisions of the Security Service Law. This legal loophole, according to the court, renders the current exemption system untenable. The court further emphasized that the exemption cannot be justified by continued financial support for religious institutions whose students are not drafted.

Predictably, the court’s decision has been met with contrasting reactions. The Movement for the Quality Government in Israel, a civil rights organization, lauded the ruling as a “historic triumph for the rule of law and the principle of equal military service burden.” They believe the decision paves the way for a more equitable society.

However, leaders within the ultra-Orthodox community expressed deep concern. Meir Porush, a prominent figure in the Knesset (Israeli parliament), compared the situation to a “two-state” reality. He fears the ruling could force Haredi men away from their religious studies, a core tenet of their faith.

The Supreme Court’s decision has ignited a firestorm of debate in Israel. While some celebrate it as a step towards a more unified society, others fear it could exacerbate social and political divisions. Netanyahu now faces the daunting task of navigating this complex situation. He must find a way to appease his ultra-Orthodox partners while addressing the concerns of the secular majority and ensuring the stability of his government.

The path forward in Israel remains uncertain. Several potential solutions have been proposed, ranging from phased-in implementation of the draft for Haredi men to the creation of alternative forms of national service. Finding a solution that satisfies both the ultra-Orthodox community and the broader Israeli public will be no easy feat.

The long-term implications of the court’s decision are yet to be fully understood. It could potentially lead to a more integrated and cohesive Israeli society where the burden of national defense is shared by all citizens. However, it could also lead to further alienation and a deepening of the social and political rift.

The coming months will be crucial in determining how Israel navigates this challenging landscape. The court’s decision has set off a chain reaction that will undoubtedly reshape Israeli society, with the potential to impact not only national service but also broader issues of religious identity and national unity.



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