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Israeli court annuls law exempting religious from military

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish youths study religious texts at a synagogue in Jerusalem on April 7, 2011. Ultra-Orthodox Jews, or "Haredim," are a tight-knit community who make up 8 percent to 10 percent of Israel's 7.7 million population, with eight children per family on average. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Baz Ratner *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-ISRAEL-POLL, originally transmitted on March 8, 2016.

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s Supreme Court has struck down a 2015 law that granted exemptions from military service to ultra-Orthodox men, in a move that could reignite long-standing tensions between Israel’s politically powerful ultra-Orthodox community and the secular Jewish majority.

Most Jewish men are required to serve in the military when they turn 18, but the ultra-Orthodox community has won exemptions, arguing that young men studying in Jewish seminaries serve the nation through study and prayer.

Secular Israelis say the system is unfair. Past attempts to force religious men to enlist have triggered violent protests by members of the ultra-Orthodox community.

The Israeli government moved to reduce exemptions and increase ultra-Orthodox military service in a 2014 law. But a year later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government, formed with religious allies, canceled those reforms.

In its decision Tuesday (Sept. 12), the court ruled overwhelmingly in favor of appeals against the 2015 law, saying it discriminates between the ultra-Orthodox and those required to serve in the military. The court ordered the law’s replacement within a year.

Former Finance Minister Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party, which pushed for greater ultra-Orthodox enlistment, hailed the court’s decision, saying that military service “is for everyone and not just for suckers.”

“The high court ruled that there are no first-class citizens and second-class citizens in Israel,” he said.

Israeli parliament members from ultra-Orthodox parties fumed at the court’s decision.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said the decision “proved once again the serious disconnect between the High Court and the Jewish people.” He said his religious Shas party would push for legislation that would preserve the status quo.

Meir Porush, a lawmaker with the United Torah Judaism party, said the court’s “judicial activism” undermined parliament’s legislative authority and was leading the country to “Armageddon.”

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  • Ambivalent about conscription in time of relative peace, I find at least, this ruling does not discriminate, or rather ends a bias in favor of a certain segment of Israeli society.

  • How so? Do you presume that being forced to serve in the military will make them stop being ultra-Orthodox Jews or something? Hint: It will do nothing of the sort. Or do you just mean this is a “victory”, in the sense that you view your petty, vindictive satisfaction at the violation of an unwilling person’s conscience as a “victory”? Nobody should be forced into military conflict, especially those who are unwilling for any reason, whether that reason is religious or not.

  • On what do you base your “hint”.

    Depending upon how (if?) those previously exempt are integrated with secular conscripts there is a reasonable expectation that some, perhaps many, will realise the irrationality of their beliefs. If this is not the case why are those who depend on religion-based subservience for their status so set against it? If they don’t see their power and control being threatened why should they object?

    As to “conscience”. If those who are currently exempt weren’t taught to value their religion over their compatriots they might have a more healthy view of their role within society. If I throw a rock at you and it breaks your arm is the pain your fault for being where the stone hit you or mine for having thrown it?

  • Relative peace in Israel? With a population as small as Israel I’d imagine conscription is necessary to have an adequately sized military.

  • I don’t know about Christians, but Druze do serve in the military. Arabs don’t serve whatever their religion.

  • By choice. It’s not compulsory. There are ofcourse real benefits (job training / integration).

    And Jews of middle eastern extraction (Iraq / Morocco) must serve.

  • The thing is they aren’t pacifists or with an objection to taking life for religious reasons. They just don’t want to serve in a national military with everyone else and sought a way out of the obligation through insularity.

  • Unless the Ultra-Orthodox are going to assert that their religious beliefs prohibit them from performing military service, I don’t see how they have a leg to stand on morally speaking. Mind, I know next to nothing about Israel’s Constitution so I have no idea how this ruling stacks up legally.

  • One reason for their objection isn’t just that the IDF is a largely secular influence and they fear their young people’s exposure to that. It’s that much of the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world is pretty cool to Zionism in general. They are content to live in Israel, not so much to serve it. The Dati Leumi community — the religious nationalists — a term that sounds bad to American ears but in Israel really just means Modern Orthodox — has generally served in the IDF gladly for some time.

  • If they’re going to enjoy the privilege of living in Israel, they have the duty to defend it. Otherwise they can go to other countries and “be separate”.

    For Orthodox young men to serve in the military with other kinds of Jewish men will give them wider experience, build solidarity, and enlarge their sense of empathy & compassion.

  • The exemption worked when the country was young, new and popular. Today we’ve all had 69 years of observing how it works and opinions–and possibly needs–have changed. Israel will always be at the crossroads of something, and will need to defend itself as long as it survives.

  • You are making the same complaints most Israelis make concerning the exemption. I definitely agree with the sentiment.

    It is far more pointed for the general Israeli public since the Ultra-Orthodox are the biggest supporters for West Bank settlements, but it is the IDF which is tasked to defend them.

  • They don’t want the exposure or the wider experience and they certainly don’t want the experience of serving with women as equals.

  • I met a Sabra (born, raised, and served) he told me that he “hated” the orthodox because when war broke out many of them “ran to the USA. with their “Strings flying in the Wind.” They would return when they were sure that their “money was safe.” He considered them to be leaches, sucking what they could from both countries, giving nothing in return.

  • Of course they don’t. That’s why it’s good for them to be forced. (In the same way children don’t like to have jabs, or take cod liver oil, though it’s good for them 🙂

  • .
    Hopefully, service beside secular or less religious Jews will allow the ultra-Orthodox Jews to become better integrated into civil society.
    .

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