Israel | End of military service exemption for ultra-Orthodox

(Jerusalem) The exemption of ultra-Orthodox Jews from military service ends Monday for these young religious people after years of procrastination, a sensitive issue which divides Israeli society against a backdrop of war between Israel and Palestinian Hamas, and a breaker head for the Netanyahu government.

Military service is compulsory in Israel, but the ultra-Orthodox can avoid conscription if they devote their time to studying Judaism’s sacred texts, an exemption established by Ben-Gurion upon the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. , initially for 400 young people, but which today concerns 66,000 men aged 18 to 26.

The law allowing this exemption was invalidated in 2012 by the Supreme Court which demanded a new law, but successive governments and ultra-Orthodox parties have always concluded provisional agreements, never managing to agree to end to this preferential treatment.

Over the years, criticism has increased in Israeli society, secular parties and NGOs have taken the matter to the Supreme Court to demand the immediate conscription of the ultra-Orthodox in the name of the principle of equality. The high court had given the government until March 27 to submit a proposal, but the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, gave it a letter the next day requesting a 30-day postponement.

The same day, the Supreme Court issued a provisional judgment providing from 1er April the freezing of public funds allocated to students of Talmudic schools who do not report for military service, but without giving a deadline for sanctions against those who refuse to report.

What will happen from Monday? These young people can in theory be called to do their military service, explains Yaïr Ettinger, expert in religious affairs for the public channel Kan 11, “but the police are not going to come and arrest them because declaring them deserters will take time, and the Court must rule on this question in May.

” Not easy ”

“The ultra-Orthodox leaders want a new law to ensure that their students are not forced into the army, but it will not be easy either politically or legally,” adds Mr. Ettinger.

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 ultra-Orthodox Jews (haredim, in Hebrew). Their defection would bring down the coalition.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

But in the eyes of Mr. Ettinger, the option of new elections provoked by the ultra-Orthodox seems unlikely insofar as “this government is the most favorable to the interests of the haredim”.

In May 2023, the government passed an unprecedented budget of nearly 3.7 billion shekels (1.36 billion Canadian dollars) for Talmudic schools. But from 1er April, what will change initially is that the Supreme Court forces the government to cut the budget intended for these religious establishments.

Since the age limit for joining the army is 26, they will be deprived of around 500 million shekels, the amount allocated to students aged 18 to 26.

According to a recent poll, 70% of the country’s Jewish population believes that ultra-Orthodox Jews should like others make their contribution to the country’s security and do their military service, while the war launched by Israel in Gaza after the Hamas’ unprecedented attack on October 7 will enter its sixth month.


Demonstration demanding equal military service in Jerusalem, Monday February 26, 2024

Nearly 600 soldiers have fallen in the fighting since the start of the war, including 254 in the Gaza Strip and more than 3,000 have been injured, according to the Israeli army.

According to local media, Mr. Netanyahu is trying to reassure his ultra-Orthodox allies by promising a bill before the budgets allocated to Talmudic schools are frozen.

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 are exempt from military service, according to the military.

The state of mind of the ultra-Orthodox world could be summed up by this statement Thursday from the powerful chairman of the parliamentary Finance Committee, Moshe Gafni, of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party: “I pray with all the Jewish people for the soldiers at the front, but without Torah study, the Jewish people have no future and we must protect (the students of Talmudic schools) with all our strength.”


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