Why the Israeli High Court ruling on Charedi draft will bring change – slowly


Charedi teens handcuffed themselves in Jerusalem in protest at the draft

The High Court of Justice's decision on Tuesday mandating the government to draft strictly Orthodox Israelis, marks a historic and significant milestone. This ruling, which found no legal basis for the ongoing blanket exemption, sets a critical precedent.

However, do not expect immediate changes in Israel's status quo. Despite the nine-judge panel's directive for a comprehensive draft and the cessation of funding to non-compliant institutions, the court's path forward entails a modest increase, drafting an additional 3,000 Charedim atop the roughly 1,500 who currently serve.

The strictly Orthodox politicians will naturally shout and protest the court decision, but their ultimate objective will be to pass a law in the Knesset that regulates the draft and sets a gradual increase that will meet the requirement set by the court.

The reason that the Charedim will ultimately do this is because they understand two things: The first is that the decision could have been worse and that the number could have been higher. To reach 3,000 more Charedi soldiers – especially considering the high number that might be registered in yeshivahs but do not actually study there – is not impossible. The court could have, for example, directed the IDF to issue call-up orders immediately to all of the more than 60,000 Charedim who are registered as yeshivah students and as a result receive an exemption.

While there have been predictions that a court decision along these lines could bring about the collapse of the government, based on the reactions by the strictly Orthodox politicians that does not seem to be automatic. Moshe Gafni and Aryeh Deri know that an election and a government without them could pass a law that would require all of the Charedim to serve in the IDF.

Which is why the Charedim understand that being part of the government now with the ability to influence the legislation over the next five weeks before the Knesset goes on break is an opportunity that an election would take away. A new government without Charedi parties would almost definitely see a law passed that would be far worse from their perspective.

Putting aside the political significance, the decision has extreme importance for Israeli society and comes at a time when the IDF remains at war in Gaza and prepares for a further escalation in the North. The term of male soldiers’ service has been extended back to a full three years alongside an increase to the exemption age for reservists, many of whom are on their second and third tour since October 7.

The blanket Charedi exemption has long been unsustainable and, due to successive governments’ refusal and failure to tackle the issue, it has been left to grow as a problem, leading to more polarisation in Israel and more importantly, a social inequality which saw only one part of Israeli society serve while another got off scot-free.

The position taken today by the High Court has immense importance. Hopefully, the Knesset will understand this moment and finally pass the legislation needed to ensure greater equality in Israel’s moment of need.

Yaakov Katz is a senior fellow at JPPI, a global think tank for the Jewish people, the former editor of the Jerusalem Post and the author of Shadow Strike: Inside Israel's Secret Mission to Eliminate Syrian Nuclear Power.

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