Israel’s High Court Challenges Government on Ultra-Orthodox Military Exemptions

The High Court of Justice in Israel appeared to have taken a decisive step concerning military service exemptions for ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) yeshiva students on Thursday evening, when the court issued an interim order effectively blocking government funding to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas whose students are eligible for Israel Defense Forces (IDF) enlistment.

This judicial intervention comes as the existing government resolution, which has been temporarily preventing the draft of Haredi students despite a relevant law’s expiration, approaches its own end date on March 31 at midnight. The absence of a new legislative framework to replace the expiring law has thrust the issue into the legal arena, prompting the High Court’s action, effective from April 1.

The unfolding events have created a deepening rift within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, stirred by the contentious issue of military enlistment for the Haredi population. The debate has reached a boiling point, with threats from both the National Unity party, led by Benny Gantz, to leave the coalition if blanket exemptions are maintained, and from Haredi parties to exit if the government cannot secure legislation to prevent their draft.

The High Court’s ruling has sparked fierce criticism from Haredi leaders, who see it as an assault on their religious way of life and the value of Torah study. Meanwhile, proponents of equal military service obligations, such as the Movement for Quality Government in Israel which initiated the legal challenge, have hailed the decision as a milestone in eliminating “illegitimate discrimination” in military service, emphasizing the importance of shared societal responsibilities.

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