Top Israel court strikes down military service exemptions for ultra-Orthodox

Israel’s Supreme Court yesterday ruled against legislation that exempts Jewish seminary students from military service, reopening a sensitive issue that could destabilise the country’s ruling coalition.

A panel of nine justices ruled that parts of the conscription law that exempt seminary students from service were “unreasonable and unconstitutional”, Reuters reported. The court gave the government a year to resolve the matter.

“The history of this societal controversy reflects the history of the State of Israel itself,” wrote the departing President of the Supreme Court, Justice Miriam Naor, in the 148-page ruling.

According to Reuters, “for decades, the exemption from military service on religious grounds for seminary students has caused friction in Israeli society, where most Jewish men and women are called up for military service when they turn 18.”

Read: Ultra-Orthodox Jews continue protests against military conscription

“The ultra-Orthodox say that their study of the Torah is vital for the continued survival of the Jewish people and also fear that young men serving in the army would come into contact with women and with less pious elements in society. Several hundred ultra-Orthodox men have, however, enlisted in special units that cater to their religious needs,” the news agency added.

The justices, by a majority of 8-1, ruled that current legislation should be scraped, on the basis that the arrangement “deeply harms equality in a way that damages the constitutional right to human dignity”.

Read:Israel’s Haredi Jews protest against military inscription

The decision prompted an angry response from Ultra-Orthodox parliamentarians, who exert considerable influence as a key partner in Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition. Interior Minister and head of Shas, Aryeh Deri, said the justices were “completely detached from our heritage and tradition and from the people,” adding: “[we] will do everything to fix this situation”.

Opposition politician Yair Lapid, however, welcomed the court’s decision, saying: “This is why we have come to politics. Conscription for everybody, work for everybody. Benjamin Netanyahu can no longer continue to wriggle out all the time. Military conscription is for everybody, not only for the suckers who don’t have a party in his coalition.”

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