Exemption from military service for ultra-Orthodox Israelis, a dilemma for Netanyahu

Exemption from military service for ultra-Orthodox Israelis, a dilemma for Netanyahu
Exemption from military service for ultra-Orthodox Israelis, a dilemma for Netanyahu

The exemption from military service for ultra-Orthodox Jews comes to an end this Monday (1st) after years of postponement, an issue that divides Israeli society amid the war in the Gaza Strip and represents a political puzzle for the Israeli government. Benjamin Netanyahu.

Military service is mandatory in Israel, but ultra-Orthodox people can avoid it if they dedicate their time to studying Judaism’s sacred texts, an exemption established by David Ben Gurion after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.

Initially the exemption applied to 400 young people, but it currently benefits 66,000 men between 18 and 26 years old.

The law allowing this exemption was annulled in 2012 by the Supreme Court, which demanded a new law, but successive governments and ultra-Orthodox parties reached temporary agreements without actually establishing an end to this preferential treatment.

Over the years, criticism has grown in Israeli society, where secular parties and NGOs, invoking the principle of equality, have appealed to the Supreme Court to demand the immediate recruitment of the ultra-Orthodox.

The Supreme Court gave the government until March 27 to submit a proposal, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a letter the next day requesting a 30-day delay.

On the same day, the court issued a provisional ruling that foresees freezing the public funds allocated to students at Talmudic schools who do not report for military service from April 1, but did not set a deadline for sanctioning those who do not report.

What will happen from this Monday? In theory, these young people could be called up for military service, explains Yair Ettinger, an expert on religious matters, on public television Kan 11.

“But the police will not arrest them because declaring them deserters takes time and the court must decide on this issue in May,” he added.


“Ultra-Orthodox leaders want a new law to ensure that their students are not forced to enlist in the army, but this will not be easy politically or legally,” Ettinger added.

Netanyahu’s coalition government is based, in part, on an alliance with the two main ultra-Orthodox parties, Shass and United Torah Judaism, which are fiercely opposed to the recruitment of ultra-Orthodox (haredim) Jews.

His departure would bring down the coalition.

But Ettinger considers the option of new elections provoked by the ultra-Orthodox unlikely, as “this government is the most favorable to the interests of the haredim.”

In May 2023, the government approved a record budget of almost 1 billion dollars (3.7 billion shekels, or 5 billion reais at the time) for Talmudic schools.

But from April 1st, what will change initially is that the Supreme Court will force the government to cut the budget allocated to these religious schools.

The age limit for joining the Army is 26 years old, therefore they will be deprived of around 500 million shekels, an amount allocated to students between 18 and 26 years old.

According to a recent survey, 70% of the Jewish population believes that the ultra-Orthodox should contribute to the country’s security and provide military service during Israel’s war in Gaza, started by the attack by the Islamist movement Hamas on October 7.

So far, 600 soldiers have died in the fighting since October 7, 254 of them in the Gaza Strip, and more than 1,500 have been injured, according to the Israeli Army.

According to local media, Netanyahu sought to reassure his ultra-Orthodox allies with the promise of a bill before the budgets allocated to Talmudic schools were frozen.

The ultra-Orthodox represent around 14% of Israel’s Jewish population, according to the Israeli Institute for Democracy, that is, around 1.3 million people.

About 66,000 ultra-Orthodox men of draft age are exempt from military service, according to the army.

The article is in Portuguese

Tags: Exemption military service ultraOrthodox Israelis dilemma Netanyahu



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