Thursday 21 November 2019

60,000 ultra-orthodox Jews face military service call-up

Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem

ISRAEL'S defence minister Ehud Barak has given army chiefs a month to draw up a plan to enlist around 60,000 ultra-orthodox young men.

They had previously been legally exempted from compulsory military service while they pursued religious studies.

But the move -- which follows the expiry yesterday of the law providing for the exemptions -- seems unlikely to enact the early mass enlistment of the students at yeshivas (religious colleges) that many secular Israelis would like to see.

The exemption law was struck down by the Supreme Court earlier this year as unconstitutional.

The centrist Kadima party walked out of the governing coalition last month after failing to secure prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's agreement to a successor law, which would have phased in enlistment of the steadily growing numbers of young ultra-orthodox men.

Instead, Mr Netanyahu infuriated many secular critics by siding with his ultra-orthodox coalition allies and favouring a much more modest stance, which Kadima calculated would leave the long-standing regime of exemptions broadly in place.

Until a new law can be passed, the government is -- at least in theory -- bound by the old 1949 Military Service Law, which requires the drafting of all Jewish citizens reaching the age of 18.


But the difficulties for the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) in rapidly absorbing large numbers of ultra-orthodox men and the dangers of a revolt by potential ultra-orthodox conscripts, will render such enlistment unlikely before a new law is brought in.

That is despite doubts that Mr Netanyahu will have a majority ahead of fresh elections next year for a new law reflecting what Knesset member Yohanan Plesner, the author of the rejected Kadima proposal, said yesterday would be a "sell-out to the ultra-orthodox parties".

The coalition's majority (65 out of 120 Knesset seats) includes 15 members of the secular Yisrael Beiteinu party, which is adamantly in favour of recruiting both ultra-orthodox and Arab citizens.

Mr Plesner said: "We are now entering a period of constitutional, legal and social crisis until there is new legislation."

Adding that the total number of ultra-orthodox affected would also including 8,000 reaching the age of 18 this year, he said he did not envisage legislation passing in the current Knesset.

The Ministry of Defence said the IDF would take into account the requirements and values of the IDF and the principle of levelling the playing field.

In the long run, it added, recruitment would contribute to "vocational training and the important integration of the ultra-orthodox community into Israel's labour market".

The exemptions have grown massively from around 400 that were granted to rabbinical students after the foundation of the state to rebuild religious scholarship that had been destroyed by the Holocaust. (© Independent News Services)

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