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Conscription of ultra-Orthodox shakes Netanyahu government

Photo: Jack Guez Agence France-Presse An ultra-Orthodox Jew walks in front of an Israeli army recruitment office on March 5 in Kiryat Ono, near Tel Aviv.

Delphine Matthieussent – Agence France-Presse in Jerusalem

10:27 a.m.

  • Middle East

The Israeli government is engaged Thursday in a race against time to find a compromise and respond to the Supreme Court on the conscription of the ultra-Orthodox, a thorny issue for the coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Supreme Court, seized of several appeals demanding immediate conscription of the ultraorthodox, in order to respect the laws on equality between citizens, had given the government until Wednesday to formulate a detailed proposal for the project of law.

In Israel, military service is compulsory, but ultraorthodox Jews (“haredim” in Hebrew) can avoid conscription if they devote their time to studying the sacred texts of Judaism, an exemption established in the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and which has never been changed since.

Given the sensitivity of this issue which has reopened a deep divide in the country, the government coalition led by Mr. Netanyahu has not reached an agreement due to opposition from ultra-Orthodox parties who do not want to hear about conscription.

The government's request for a few extra hours, until 12 p.m. GMT on Thursday, to submit its response to the Supreme Court, seems to indicate that the different parties are seeking to find a compromise.< /p>

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, whose role is to advise the government on legal issues and represent it before the courts, threw a wrench into the pond on Wednesday evening by announcing that the government would have an obligation to proceed with the conscription of the ultraorthodox from April 1 due to a legal loophole.

At a time when Israel has been at war against the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas in Gaza for almost six months, this exemption is increasingly criticized within society, some of which believe that ultraorthodox Jews should like the others, make their contribution to the security of the country and do their military service.

Mr. Netanyahu's government coalition is largely based on the alliance with the two major ultra-Orthodox parties, Shass and United Torah Judaism, fiercely opposed to the conscription of haredim. Their defection would bring down the coalition.

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Challenge of a Minister

In May 2023, the government voted for an unprecedented budget of nearly one billion euros (1.47 billion Canadian dollars) for Talmudic schools (yeshivot).

The latter had supported Benjamin Netanyahu's controversial judicial reform project in exchange for his support for a bill which was to be discussed in Parliament before the war on the continuation of the postponement of conscription for the ultraorthodox .

But at the end of February, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant defied his prime minister by announcing a reform of military service aimed at including the haredim, and demanded that the entire government support it.

Military service (32 months for men and two years for women) is compulsory for young Israelis but almost all ultra-Orthodox people escape it, thanks to an agreement offering young men full-time studies time in Talmudic schools to postpone their military service each year. Young religious women are automatically exempt.

Since the invalidation by the Israeli Supreme Court in 2012 of the Tal law, allowing the holding of this agreement, the exemptions have continued, governed by agreements between successive governments and the ultra-Orthodox parties.

The ultra-Orthodox make up about 14% of Israel's Jewish population, according to the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), or nearly 1.3 million people.

Approximately 66,000 ultra-Orthodox men of military age benefit from this deferral, according to an army figure.

In 1948, this postponement allowed an elite of 400 young people to preserve the world of studies of sacred texts which was largely decimated during the Shoah.

Most haredim demand that this exemption be maintained for all students, deeming the army incompatible with their values.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116