Israel's Supreme Court Issues a Potentially Explosive Ruling

AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed

In a unanimous ruling on Tuesday, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that the IDF can draft ultra-Orthodox men to serve in the armed forces. The ruling will allow Israel to continue its war against Hamas, but there are dangerous ripples that could emerge from the decision.

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“The historic ruling effectively puts an end to a decades-old system that granted ultra-Orthodox men broad exemptions from military service while maintaining mandatory enlistment for the country’s secular Jewish majority,” reports Tia Goldenberg at the Associated Press. “The arrangement, deemed discriminatory by critics, has created a deep chasm in Israel’s Jewish majority over who should shoulder the burden of protecting the country.”

For years, ultra-Orthodox men were exempt from the compulsory military service that Israel demanded from the rest of its men and women. Tuesday’s ruling was the culmination of a process that began seven years ago.

“The court struck down a law that codified exemptions in 2017, but repeated court extensions and government delaying tactics over a replacement dragged out a resolution for years,” Goldenberg reports. “The court ruled that in the absence of a law, Israel’s compulsory military service applies to the ultra-Orthodox like any other citizen.”

“The court also ruled that the government should withdraw funding from any religious schools, or yeshivas, if their students do not follow draft notices,” reports Just the News.

Ultra-Orthodox Israelis consider their religious studies as their service to the nation, which is why the exemption stood for so long. Other Israelis have resented the exemption, with fissures opening even wider since Hamas invaded Israel on Oct. 7 of last year. Israel says it needs all the manpower it can get, having called up tens of thousands for service since the war with Hamas began.

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The court stated that Israel engaged in “invalid selective enforcement, which represents a serious violation of the rule of law, and the principle according to which all individuals are equal before the law.” The court also said the state should “act immediately to implement the ruling.” The IDF claims that it could draft as many as 3,000 ultra-Orthodox men by year’s end.

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This ruling threatens to rip apart Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fragile coalition government. The ultra-Orthodox parties aligned with Netanyahu’s Likud party and its coalition don’t approve of any changes to the exemption, and they could break with Likud, forcing an election.

“In the current environment, Netanyahu could have a hard time delaying the matter any further or passing laws to restore the exemptions,” Goldenberg explains. “During arguments, government lawyers told the court that forcing ultra-Orthodox men to enlist would ‘tear Israeli society apart.’”

Likud opposed the ruling, issuing a statement that “The real solution to the draft problem is not a Supreme Court ruling.” The party promised a bill in the Knesset that would address the draft issue, but critics claim that such legislation won’t do enough.

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Shuki Friedman of the Jewish People Policy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank, told the AP that the ultra-Orthodox communities in Israel “understand that they don’t have a better political alternative, but at the same time their public is saying ‘why did we vote for you?’”

The biggest question emerging from this situation is whether Israel can afford to not have a large enough pool of soldiers to draw from more than it can afford instability at the highest levels of its government. Neither option is ideal in Israel’s time of crisis.

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