First Published: 2017-09-13

Israel abolishes law exempting ultra-Orthodox from military
Supreme Court sparks anger from religious leaders by striking down law exempting ultra-Orthodox Jews from military service, allows one year for preparations for new arrangement.
Middle East Online

Forcing them into service is a highly contentious proposition with political implications

JERUSALEM - An Israeli Supreme Court decision that could force ultra-Orthodox citizens to serve in the army like their secular counterparts sparked anger from religious leaders Wednesday and reignited a sensitive political debate.

Tuesday's decision strikes down a law exempting ultra-Orthodox men engaged in religious study from military service, saying it undermines equality.

The decision raises the possibility that they could be forced into service, a highly contentious proposition with political implications.

The court however suspended its decision for one year to allow for preparations for the new arrangement -- which also provides the government with the opportunity to pass a new law.

Ultra-Orthodox political parties and their allies in government are likely to draft new legislation that could seek to override the court ruling and keep the exemption in place.

The ultra-Orthodox parties form a key part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition and have often acted as kingmakers in Israeli politics.

Around 10 percent of Israel's eight million people are considered ultra-Orthodox.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, whose ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism alliance is part of Netanyahu's coalition, accused the court of seeking to topple the coalition.

He called the ruling "one of the worst, most wretched judicial decrees that will enter the long history of persecutions of the Jewish people," ultra-Orthodox newspaper Hamodia reported.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, said "the Supreme Court is totally cut off from our (Jewish) heritage and tradition."

The issue is part of a decades-old debate over whether young ultra-Orthodox men studying at seminaries should perform mandatory military service like the rest of Israel's Jewish population.

After reaching age 18, men must serve two years and eight months, while women must serve for two.

In 2015, lawmakers passed legislation extending their exemption from duty, reversing a law passed the previous year that would have seen it expire.

Israel's first prime minister David Ben-Gurion initially granted the exemption in the early years of the state founded in 1948, which at the time involved only 400 students.

The ultra-Orthodox are however today among the fastest-growing segments of Israel's population, with projections that they could account for one-quarter of the total by 2050.

- 'Not just for suckers' -

They oppose serving for a variety of reasons, with the most extreme believing a Jewish state is not allowed before the coming of the Messiah.

Others argue that yeshiva study is just as important to Israel as military service or that ultra-Orthodox soldiers would be confronted with salty language and other unreligious behaviour.

Yair Lapid, the head of the centrist Yesh Atid party who pushed to remove the exemption as part of the previous government in 2014, welcomed the court's decision as a victory of "values."

Lapid, now in the opposition, also criticised Netanyahu, saying the prime minister could not continue to avoid the issue and that "conscription is for everyone, not just for the suckers who don't have a party in the coalition."

Israeli media reported that the ultra-Orthodox parties were to meet on Wednesday to plot a way forward after the decision.

But many analysts said it was unlikely to provoke a coalition crisis, with Netanyahu having sided with the ultra-Orthodox parties on a range of issues recently.

A decision in June to scrap a deal to allow women and men to pray together at the Western Wall provoked heavy criticism of Netanyahu, who was accused of abandoning reform efforts for political gain.

The ultra-Orthodox parties bitterly opposed the deal for mixed-gender prayer at the site in Jerusalem, the holiest where Jews are allowed to pray, since it violates their strict interpretation of Jewish law.

"Let's put matters in proportion. This is not a political earthquake, not at this stage," political columnist Ben Caspit wrote in Israel's Maariv newspaper.

"Almost nobody has the energy for elections at the moment."

 

Syria Kurds vow to cleanse enclave from Turkish 'scourges'

US withholds $65 million from UN agency for Palestinians

Saudi Arabia intercepts new Yemen rebel missile attack

Britain to put women at heart of peace work in Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan

Bitcoin appeal beats ban and warnings in Jordan

Seven years since ousting dictator, Tunisians still protest

Iran says Trump jeopardising Airbus deals

China says Iranian oil tanker wreck located

Sudan arrests communist leader after protests

Syrian opposition joins condemnation of US 'border force'

Israeli judge detains teen until trial for viral ‘slap video’

Arab league slams US freeze of Palestinian funding

Dubai billionaire to sell 15 percent Damac stake

Saudi to give Yemen government $2bn bailout

Israeli police find missing Briton’s belongings in desert

Algeria gas plant workers mark five years since jihadist siege

UN says over 5000 children killed or injured in Yemen war

European leaders’ response to Iran protests raises questions

Erdogan to visit Pope Francis next month

Iran slams US-backed 'border security force' in Syria

Palestinian suspension of Israel recognition unlikely for now

Jordan to hike fuel, bread prices

Yemen rebels free journalist detained since August

Palestinian reconciliation brings no change for Gazans

Sudan police use force, tear gas against protesters

Both hardliners and moderates have failed Iranians

Erdogan says Turkish military op in Syria's Afrin to be supported by rebels

UAE to lodge complaint over Qatar flight 'interception'

UN says 22 million Yemenis in need of aid

Minorities in north Iraq look to post-jihadist future

US-purchased cranes arrive at Yemen rebel-held port

Palestinian leaders call for suspension of recognition of Israel

Morocco dirham stable after flexible FX system introduction

10 killed in clashes at Tripoli airport

Sisi vows to protect Egypt's water supply

Palestinians meet to respond to Trump's 'slap of the century'

Hezbollah’s popular support jeopardises Lebanon’s alliances

European judicial opinion could deal fresh blow to Brussels-Rabat ties

Turkey plane plunged off runway due to ‘engine surge’

Iran oil tanker's sinking off China raises environmental fears

Protests held on Tunisia uprising anniversary

Double suicide bombing shakes in Baghdad

Iranian oil tanker sinks engulfed in flames

Will Abdullah Gul challenge Erdogan?

Hamas official wounded in car bomb attack in Lebanon