Netanyahu faces new threat after court ruling on ultra-Orthodox goes into effect

AP , Monday 1 Apr 2024

An Israeli Supreme Court decision on the divisive issue of military draft exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jews has gone into effect.

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Protest group wave Israeli flags during a demonstration in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim, demanding equality in Israel s military service, in Jerusalem on Sunday, March 31, 2024. AP

 

The court decided last week to freeze funding to Jewish seminaries whose students have not turned up to be drafted into the military. Monday was also the last day for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to submit a bill that would address the mass draft exemptions granted to the ultra-Orthodox, which it was not expected to do on time.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel enjoy a system of broad exemptions to Israel’s compulsory military service and the issue has long divided the nation. Secular Israelis say the ultra-Orthodox should share in the burden of protecting the country, a demand that has sharpened during the war against Hamas in Gaza. The ultra-Orthodox, meanwhile, say drafting them into the military would compromise their pious way of life. They say they share the burden of service by praying and being observant Jews.

The Supreme Court ruled that the current system of conscription exemptions is discriminatory.

But the ruling’s coming into force isn’t expected to spark too much immediate drama.

The Education Ministry is expected to stop the monthly subsidies to the seminaries on Monday, although the government could search for discretionary funds to cover the gaps. The ultra-Orthodox weren’t expected to be drafted en masse without a formal plan by the government.

The issue poses a threat to Netanyahu’s government, which hinges on two ultra-Orthodox parties for its stability. The ultra-Orthodox parties have not said what they will do if they lose their preferential status. But if they decide to leave the government, the coalition would almost certainly collapse and the country could be forced into new elections, with Netanyahu trailing significantly in the polls amid the war.

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