Tue 25 Jun 2024 7:28 pm - Jerusalem Time

Does the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision on Haredi recruitment threaten to bring down Netanyahu’s government?

Israel's Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that the government must recruit ultra-Orthodox Jewish institute students into the army, a decision likely to shock Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition.

The law requires most Israelis to serve in the Israeli occupation army, unlike Jewish religious school students, who have been exempt from it for decades.

The exemption, which has been in place for decades, has become the subject of widespread controversy in Israel, especially with the beginning of the war on Gaza and the increasing intensity of the conflict with Hezbollah on the border with Lebanon.

Exempting the Haredim from military service has become more controversial, because the Israeli army consists mostly of teenage soldiers and a number of older civilians who are called to undertake reserve military service, in addition to being a service exhausted by the multi-front war in Gaza and southern Lebanon.

What lies behind the dispute?

The exemption for religiously observant Jews (Haredim) goes back to the first days of Israel’s founding in 1948, when the socialist David Ben-Gurion - who was the first prime minister - exempted about 400 students from military service so that they could devote themselves to religious study.

Through this, Ben-Gurion hoped to keep Jewish knowledge and traditions alive after they were almost erased during what is known as the Holocaust.

Since then, the exemptions have become an increasing nuisance as the fast-growing community expands to constitute more than 13% of Israel's population, a percentage that is expected to rise to about a third of the population within 40 years due to the high rate of population growth among them.

The opposition of the Haredim to joining the army is based on their strong sense of religious identity, a feeling that many families fear will be weakened by service in the army.

Some Haredi men perform military service, but most do not, something many secular Israelis feel exacerbates social divisions.

Many Haredi men do not work to earn money, but live on donations, government benefits, and the wages of their wives, many of whom often work for low wages. Haredi Jews mostly live in neighborhoods with a predominantly religious population and devote their lives to studying religion.

For secular Israelis who are obligated to serve in the army and whose taxes help support the Haredim, the exemptions have long caused resentment, and this resentment has increased since the outbreak of the war in Gaza.

Many Israelis view the war on Hamas as an existential battle for the future, and about 300,000 reserve forces joined the fighting.

Opinion polls indicate that there is very broad popular support for abolishing the Haredi’s exemption from conscription.

What are the risks for Netanyahu?

For Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the risks are high. Although public opinion seems to support repealing the exemption, his government includes two religious parties whose withdrawal from the coalition could lead to new elections that opinion polls indicate that Netanyahu will lose.

Previously, the two parties - United Torah Judaism and Shas - pledged to confront any attempts to cancel the exemption.

On the other hand, some within the Likud Party - led by Netanyahu - showed discomfort or opposition to exempting the Haredim from military service, including Defense Minister Yoav Galant, a former general and a prominent member of the Likud Party.

Gallant voted against a bill currently being discussed by the Knesset (Parliament) that would require some religiously observant Jews to gradually enter the army instead of immediately and completely ending the exemption.

What will happen now?

The conscription bill - which has already been approved on first reading - is still making its way through Parliament, and if approved after that process, which could see some amendments, could defuse any immediate crisis.

But if the bill falters and the court ruling stands, it could put additional pressure on Netanyahu's coalition, which could push the country to hold elections if the coalition collapses.

Source: Reuters


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Does the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision on Haredi recruitment threaten to bring down Netanyahu’s government?