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Israel court delays ultra-orthodox draft by 3 months

JERUSALEM: A group of Ultra Orthodox Jews hold placards as they stage a protest against compulsory military service on 20 March 2017. [Gil Cohen Magen/Anadolu Agency]
JERUSALEM: A group of Ultra Orthodox Jews hold placards as they stage a protest against compulsory military service on 20 March 2017. [Gil Cohen Magen/Anadolu Agency]

Israel’s High Court of Justice yesterday granted a three-month extension on the passing of a new law which would see Israel’s ultra-orthodox community drafted into the army.

The Israeli government had originally requested a seven-month extension, but was granted less than half of the time period it asked for. The Court said in its ruling that “after considering this matter, we decided to partially respond to the [state’s] request and postpone the date so that it will take effect on December 2, 2018,” the Times of Israel reported.

The deadline to pass the legislation, which will conscript Israel’s ultra-Orthodox population (Haredim) into the army, was originally set for September 2018. However, such efforts have proved highly sensitive and provoked a backlash from the Haredi community, which has halted the law’s progress. Haredi men have been exempt from serving in the army since the state was founded in 1948, due to the fact that they are required to study in yeshivas, or religious schools. Yet in September 2017 the Israeli High Court declared that these exemptions are discriminatory against the majority of Israelis – both male and female Jewish Israelis serve three and two years’ compulsory national service respectively, with only Palestinian citizens of Israel exempt from serving for political reasons.

JERUSALEM: Israeli police assault Ultra Orthodox Jewish protesters during a demonstration against compulsory military service on 20 March 2017. [Gil Cohen Magen/Anadolu Agency]

JERUSALEM: Israeli police assault Ultra Orthodox Jewish protesters during a demonstration against compulsory military service on 20 March 2017. [Gil Cohen Magen/Anadolu Agency]

It is thought that the short deadline enforced by the court yesterday will lead to political upset and potentially trigger early elections in Israel. The Times of Israel observed that “the court ruling forces the government to tackle the politically destabilising issue immediately after the Knesset returns from its summer recess in October, [which] could destabilise [Israeli] Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition”.

Members of Netanyahu’s coalition have previously expressed discontent at the proposed law. Deputy Health Minister, Yaakov Litzman, previously told the prime minister that if a request to defer the law was not filed to the court he would resign from the government, Arutz Sheva reported. Litzman heads the ultra-orthodox Agudat Yisrael party, which often looks to a council of rabbis to ratify its policy decisions.

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Last week, dozens of Haredim were arrested during anti-conscription protests in Jerusalem, which blocked the road and the light-rail that runs through the city. Police were said to have used water cannons and other measures to disperse the crowd. The organisers of the protest, Committee to Save the Torah World, issued a statement saying: “The Haredi public understands today more than ever that the targets and quotas of the recent draconian draft laws are a terrible decree of extermination whose goal is to destroy and secularise the ultra-Orthodox community.”

This was not the first time the Haredim have clashed with Israeli police over the proposed draft law. In April, hundreds protested against the law and were met with stun grenades and water cannons in a bid to quell the disruptions. Four police officers and several Haredim were reportedly injured during the incident. In February, similar clashes erupted, while two ultra-orthodox political parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, threatened to withhold their support for the budget if the government did not exempt the Haredim from military service.

The Haredim make up approximately 12 per cent of Israel’s population, with their numbers reaching one million in 2017. However, their high birth rate – Haredi women had an average 6.9 children in 2014 – means that they are projected to comprise 16 per cent of the population by 2030. This poses problems for the Israeli state given the community’s relative lack of integration into the work force and high rates of poverty. It is this concern which is believed to be behind the government’s push to integrate them into broad aspects of Israeli society, for example serving in the military. The Haredim have also historically been hostile to Zionism, which they see as a secular nationalist ideology, though in recent years the number of illegal Haredi settlements in the occupied West Bank has grown exponentially, largely due to financial incentives from the government and cheaper housing stock than inside Green Line Israel.

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