Israel's Supreme Court rules that ultra-Orthodox Jews must be drafted into the army

But ultra-Orthodox parties, with few attractive options, may not be eager to topple Netanyahu's coalition, he said. “They don't see an alternative, so they're going to try to make this work as long as they can,” Mr. Cohen said. “They will compromise more than they might have been willing to do a year ago in an effort to preserve government.”

For now, the Army must come up with a plan to potentially welcome into its ranks thousands of soldiers who are opposed to military service and whose insularity and traditions are at odds with a modern fighting force.

The court's decision creates an “open political wound at the heart of the coalition” that Netanyahu now must urgently address, said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem-based think tank.

In a statement, Netanyahu's Likud party criticized the Supreme Court for issuing the ruling while the government was planning to pass legislation that would make the case obsolete. The government's proposed law, the party said, would increase the number of ultra-Orthodox conscripts while recognizing the importance of religious study.

It was unclear whether Netanyahu's proposal would ultimately withstand judicial scrutiny. But if passed by Parliament, a new law could face years of court challenges, buying the government further time, Plesner said.

The Supreme Court's decision on Tuesday immediately sparked outrage among ultra-Orthodox politicians. Many ultra-Orthodox see military service as a gateway to assimilation into a secular Israeli society that would lead young people to deviate from a lifestyle guided by the Torah, the Jewish scriptures.

“The State of Israel was founded to be the home of the Jewish people, for whom the Torah is the foundation of their existence. The Holy Torah will prevail,” Yitzhak Goldknopf, an ultra-Orthodox government minister, said in a statement Monday.

After the October 7 Hamas-led attack on southern Israel, Israelis united in their determination to fight back. But when thousands of reserve soldiers were asked to serve second and third shifts in Gaza, fault lines in Israeli society quickly resurfaced.

Some Israeli analysts warn that the war could spread to other fronts in the West Bank and the northern border with Lebanon, leading the government to call for more conscripts and further strain relations between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Already many Israelis – secular, religious and ultra-Orthodox – see the draft draft as just one skirmish in a broader cultural battle over the country's increasingly uncertain future.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews have been exempt from military service since Israel's founding in 1948, when the country's leadership promised them autonomy in exchange for their support in creating a largely secular state. At that time there were only a few hundred students in the yeshivah.

The ultra-Orthodox have grown to more than a million people, about 13 percent of Israel's population. They wield considerable political clout and their elected leaders have become kingmakers, present in most Israeli coalition governments.

But as the power of the ultra-Orthodox grew, so did anger over their failure to join the army and their relatively small contribution to the economy. In 2019, Netanyahu's former ally Avigdor Lieberman rejected his offer to join a coalition that would legislate the ultra-Orthodox exemption bill. The decision helped send Israel to repeat elections, five in four years.

Last year, after returning to power at the helm of his current coalition, Netanyahu sought to legislate a plan to weaken the country's justice system, sparking mass protests. For the ultra-Orthodox, who supported judicial review, one of the main motivations was to ensure that the Supreme Court could no longer hinder their ability to avoid the draft.

Ron Scherf, a lieutenant colonel in the Israeli reserves, said many soldiers were frustrated at having to serve multiple tours of duty during the war, even though ultra-Orthodox Israelis “never get called up.”

An activist with Brothers in Arms, a group of reserve soldiers who oppose Netanyahu, Scherf asked: “How can Israel allow an entire community to be exempt from its civic duties?”

Gabby Sobelman, Johnatan Reiss AND Myra Novec contributed to the reporting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *