Israel's Ultra-Orthodox Can't Avoid Draft, Top Court Rules

Supreme Court calls out 'inequality' in draft enforcement
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 25, 2024 8:33 AM CDT
Israel's Ultra-Orthodox Can't Avoid Draft, Top Court Rules
Israeli police disperse Ultra-Orthodox Jews blocking a highway during a protest against possible changes to regarding the laws for military drafts from which the ultra-Orthodox have traditionally received exemptions near Bnei Brak, Israel, Sunday, June 2, 2024.   (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students, some of whom have say they'd rather die than fight, must be drafted for military service anyway, the country's Supreme Court ruled Tuesday. The landmark decision threatens to destabilize Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government, reports the New York Times. Israelis must serve in the military from the age of 18. Men are required to serve for three years and women for two, though there are exemptions, including for members of Israel's Arab minority. The Supreme Court struck down exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jews in 2017, per the AP. However, the government still declined to draft them while promising a new conscription law.

Now, with the war in Gaza bringing public anger over the issue to a new height, the court has ruled that, without a law to protect them, ultra-Orthodox Jews must submit to compulsory military service like most others. "At the height of a difficult war, the burden of inequality is more than ever acute," reads the ruling, which also blocks state subsidies for seminaries with scholars who avoid service without deferrals or exemptions, per the AP. The unanimous decision could threaten Netanyahu's "increasingly brittle" coalition government, which includes two ultra-Orthodox parties opposed to the move, per Reuters. The outlet reports "leaders of those parties said they were disappointed with the ruling but issued no immediate threat to the government."

If they do flee the coalition, the government would collapse, likely leading to new elections, per the AP. In court, government lawyers argued forcing some 66,000 ultra-Orthodox men to enlist would "tear Israeli society apart," per Al Jazeera. Critics say the Torah scholars are ill-suited for military service and better serve the state through full-time religious study. Following the ruling, Netanyahu's Likud party said a bill would address the draft issue. But the president will have trouble restoring the exemptions, especially before a summer recess. "Some moderate members of the government have indicated they will only support a law that enlists sizable numbers of ultra-Orthodox," per the AP. (More Israel stories.)

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