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Analysis: Clash of immovable objects promises headaches for all

The view from Israel after the High Court ruling on Charedim military exemptions

    Strictly Orthodox men protest the military draft
    Strictly Orthodox men protest the military draft Flash 90

    This week’s High Court decision is the latest development in a saga that has been going for nearly two decades – but it is hard to see how a solution can be reached within the one-year deadline also handed down. 

    Two immovable objects collided long ago and no compromise has yet succeeded in budging them. Charedi rabbis are adamant that under no condition can yeshiva students be forced to close their volumes of Talmud and don uniforms. They have behind them the political power of Charedi parties, a crucial part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition.

    Charedi politicians have been quick to proclaim that no force in the world will stop their young men from studying Torah – although they have not raised the prospect of bringing down the government over the issue. They are all too aware of how popular the universal conscription cause is, and are reluctant to prompt an election over it. They fear it will only serve to boost the vote of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, which has championed drafting yeshiva students. Meanwhile the groups petitioning the court will not stop their campaign for drafting yeshiva students — it is a popular cause with a majority of Israelis.

    Their only alternative now is a law bypassing the High Court, which has long been the dream of both the right-wing and religious parties, angry at the activist court’s habit of “interfering” in Knesset legislation. The problem is that there are not currently enough votes in the Knesset to pass such a law.

    Arguably the most important organisation in the debate – the army itself – has not yet weighed in on the ruling. For the generals, this is an organisational nightmare. Over the past 18 years, the IDF has gradually been opening special units, courses and military professions for strictly Orthodox soldiers, where they can serve while maintaining their religious standards. This includes, among other things, serving in a male-only environment.

    At the same time the IDF has been opening up more roles to female soldiers and the army would like to see more soldiers enlisting from all of society. But progress is slow. 

    They can’t say so in public, but the military personnel chiefs much prefer the current situation in which the numbers of strictly Orthodox soldiers joining annually is growing very slowly. The High Court ruling is just another headache they could do without.

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