Israeli Supreme Court Orders Conscription for Ultra-Orthodox Jews

Soon 3,000 young ultra-Orthodox men will receive military draft orders in their mailboxes for the first time in Israel’s history. This comes as a result of a unanimous ruling by Israel’s Supreme Court on Tuesday, saying there is no longer any legal framework for their military exemption.

Contentious issue: This has long been an issue for religious and secular Jews who feel they have to make up the difference for the ultra-Orthodox community who make up 13 percent of the population. Ultra-Orthodox Jews consider themselves separate from Israeli society, believing their priority in life is to study the Torah.

“At the height of a difficult war, the burden of inequality is more than ever acute,” read the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Achim L’Neshek, a member of the Brothers in Arms, said, “We are all equal before the law, and we all serve.”

Protests: Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox men blocked a major highway on Thursday to protest the court’s decision. One young man said, “All the Orthodox public prefers to go to prison and not to the army.” Another large protest is scheduled for Sunday.

Interesting timing: A decision to force military service on ultra-Orthodox Jews could have been made long ago seeing Israel has been involved in at least seven wars and conflicts since it became a nation in 1948. But it wasn’t. So why now?

The Likud party responded to the decision saying:

It’s puzzling that the Supreme Court, which for 76 years refrained from enforcing yeshiva student enlistment through a ruling, is doing so now, on the eve of completing the historic conscription law and when ultra-Orthodox enlistment was at an all-time high.

The law was formulated by the defense establishment when Benny Gantz was defense minister and passed its first reading with the support of Naftali Bennett, Yair Lapid and Avigdor Lieberman. Now suddenly Bennett, Lapid, Lieberman and Gantz oppose the law because they’re not interested in ultra-Orthodox enlistment but in toppling the government.

About to topple? The majority of Netanyahu’s coalition is made up of two ultra-Orthodox parties, and they could easily drop out. But so far, they intend to stay. Unnamed sources from within the party said, “It was never about money. We can live with 3,000 who enlist who aren’t studying.”

The main concern from Tuesday’s ruling is that Netanyahu faces domestic opposition in addition to his enemies abroad. His coalition relies on two ultra-Orthodox parties—this could drive a wedge between his supporters.

Powerful forces want to get rid of Netanyahu. He has had to stand up to radical efforts to reshape the Middle East and empower Iran. This ruling could be part of a much wider push to oust him.

Learn more: Read our article “Who Is Behind the War on Netanyahu.”