Conscription of the ultra-Orthodox in Israel | Netanyahu calls for further delay

(Jerusalem) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked the Supreme Court on Thursday for a new postponement to allow the government to agree on the thorny issue of the conscription of ultra-Orthodox Jews, an issue which weakens his coalition of RIGHT.

Seized of several calls demanding immediate conscription of ultra-Orthodox Jews to respect the law on equality between citizens, the Supreme Court gave the government until Wednesday to formulate a detailed proposal for a bill.

In a letter sent Thursday to the high court, Mr. Netanyahu requested a 30-day postponement citing “conditions linked to war efforts,” according to a press release from his office.

“The issue of equal duties is of paramount importance for Israeli society,” argued the prime minister, adding that “a little more time was needed to reach an agreement” on this issue.

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

While Israel has been at war against the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas in Gaza for almost six months, this exemption is increasingly criticized within society. According to a recent poll, 70% of the country’s Jewish population believes that ultra-Orthodox Jews should, like others, contribute to the country’s security and do their military service.


A man holds a sign demanding that the burden of the war effort be shared by all, including the ultra-Orthodox, during a demonstration on March 14.

Torn between its different components, the government coalition is struggling to find an agreement due in particular to the opposition of the ultra-Orthodox parties who do not want to hear about conscription.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, whose role is to advise the government on legal issues and represent it before the courts, estimated Thursday that in the absence of a law to authorize a postponement of conscription, “at from 1er April” it will not be possible for “students of Talmudic schools to continue to avoid the procedures” for doing 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.

Challenge of a Minister

In May 2023, the government voted for an unprecedented budget of almost one billion euros (3.7 billion shekels) 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 ultra-Orthodox.

But at the end of February, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, a member of Likud, the prime minister’s party, defied the latter by announcing a reform of military service aimed at including the haredim.

The pressure from part of society in favor of the conscription of the ultra-Orthodox is all the stronger with the war while the army demands an extension of the duration of military service (32 months for men and two years for women) and reserve periods.

Since the Supreme Court’s invalidation in 2012 of the Tal law, ensuring the sustainability 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. About 66,000 ultra-Orthodox men of military age benefit from this deferral, according to the army.

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

Most haredim demand the maintenance of this exemption for their community, believing that their religious values ​​are incompatible with those of modern society, embodied in their eyes by the army.


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