This is no longer an exception: Ultra-Orthodox Jews must also join the IDF RTL News

military conscription

By Chris Kunis··an average:

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The Israeli military will begin drafting ultra-Orthodox Jews next month, ending their decades-long exceptional status. The compulsory draft of religious people has been a long-running and sensitive debate in the country.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant announced to the Israeli parliament this morning that the first 3,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews can expect to be called up in August. For now, this only applies to Orthodox males.

“Our goal is to call up everyone who can be drafted under the law,” Galant said. “The process will be gradual, which hasn’t happened in 76 years.”

Exemption since 1948

It refers to the situation that has prevailed since the establishment of Israel in 1948. That is, ultra-Orthodox Jews, or so-called Haredim, are practically exempt from military service. This is in contrast to non-Orthodox Israelis, for whom women (two years) and men (three years) are required to perform compulsory military service.

Some ultra-Orthodox Jews would rather go to prison than join the army.© Getty
Some ultra-Orthodox Jews would rather go to prison than join the army.

Many Israelis see this exceptional position as unfair. The debate erupted after the Israeli military called up more than 300,000 reservists in October. These are Israeli citizens who have completed their military service and are then required to be available for years to be deployed (temporarily) when a special situation arises.

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled on June 25 that ultra-Orthodox Jews are no longer exempt from military service. The court declared in 1998 that the exemption should end, but since then various governments have found ways to circumvent the ruling. Until now.

“Israel is telling itself that it is engaged in an existential struggle with Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran,” says Peter Malcontent, a specialist in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and lecturer and researcher at Utrecht University. “The war is ongoing and fatigue is starting to spread among the forces present. That is why there is a need for strong reserves.”

Study the Torah

The fact that the majority of Haredim do not want to serve in the army is due to their religious beliefs. The community lives largely isolated from society and avoids contact with the outside world. They have no internet or television, and spend almost all their time studying the Torah, the ancient Jewish law books. Many wear black hats, long coats and have rings.

At the end of June, a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested against compulsory military service.© Getty
At the end of June, a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested against compulsory military service.

Although it is not true that any of these ultra-Orthodox do not want to serve. Those who want to do so are gathered as much as possible in special units that do not include women. They also get time for study and prayer.

The Netzah Yehuda Battalion, a military unit that primarily serves ultra-Orthodox Jews and far-right settlers, was accused in April of human rights abuses in the West Bank.

It was also mentioned at the end of October About two thousand Ultra-Orthodox volunteers for service in the army. Special basic training is prepared for them so that they can help as drivers, programmers or cooks.

An important difference from 1948 is that the Haredim constituted only a small part of Israel’s population. And it lasted for a long time. Several hundred Ultra-Orthodox who have been granted an exemption so that they can study religious texts full-time in special yeshivas.

Because the ultra-Orthodox have a relatively large number of children, their share quickly rose to about 13% of the population, which amounts to about 1.3 million people.

The division is great

“As this group grows larger and gains more influence over the political system, non-Orthodox Jewish parents see their sons and daughters as having to fight,” says Malcontent. “Some are upset with the Haredim and feel that they live on money because they receive benefits and pray only, while the state ensures their safety. There are also suspicions that the Haredim are abusing the exemption rule by going to college just to avoid military service.”

He says the whole affair shows once again how divided Israeli society is right now. “Not just between those who support the war and those who oppose it, or between those who support or do not support Prime Minister Netanyahu, but also between the ultra-Orthodox and the rest of society.”

Dozens were killed and wounded in an Israeli air strike on a tent camp in the Gaza city of Khan Yunis yesterday.

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