Israel’s high court rejects delay in ultra-orthodox military service law

High Court of Justice adds to coalition pressure on ultra-orthodox to begin drafting to military in February.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

The High Court of Justice on Tuesday rejected a government request to delay a decision on exempting ultra-Orthodox Jews from military service, tossing a hot potato into the coalition government’s lap and requiring a new law to be passed by February, or ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students will start getting call-up notices beginning that month.

The government policy of exempting most ultra-Orthodox Jews from military service was ruled unconstitutional in 2017 and the Supreme Court gave the Knesset 12 months to legislate a solution.

However, religious parties in the Knesset demanded a blanket exemption from the draft. A compromise law under which a limited number of yeshiva students would be recruited was never implemented.

The government had repeatedly turned to the Court for extensions, but after seven previous delays the court decision means the compromise law will be become nullified on February 1, 2021 and ultra-Orthodox Israelis of age will begin receiving draft notices for obligatory military service.

“I welcome the decision of the High Court. The Netanyahu government has been evading the draft law for five years,” tweeted opposition Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid. “It is time to return equality to the burden. Every young man and woman is committed to serving the country. No one has discounts.”

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Lapid’s party was first elected to the Knesset in 2013 with the issue of military draft for the ultra-orthodox as a central part of its platform.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government is already facing pressure from the Blue and White Party led by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, demanding Netanyahu stop delaying a national budget and threatening to go to elections. Israel has yet to pass its 2020 budget with a December deadline to do so or elections will automatically be held. Gantz is also demanding Netanyahu approve a budget for all of 2021 by the same date.

Under their coalition agreement, Gantz is set to replace Netanyahu as prime minister in November, 2021, and Netanyahu appears to be delaying the budget bills in order to keep the option of an election open before then. Having the 2021 budget in place would add to political stability and the chance of Gantz assuming office under the agreement.

The Court’s decision may be a lucky bonus for Gantz because Netanyahu’s other coalition partners, the religious Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, will be putting on pressure to pass legislation to keep their constituents out of the military, which is not possible if the country goes to elections.

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“Gantz has a strong card against the ultra-Orthodox,” the Srugim news website commented. “They need a recruitment law within three months, and he needs two budgets within two months. The deal will be simple: transfer of budgets for the passage of the draft law – or the dissolution of the Knesset before the passage of the law.”