Cyprus Mail
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Israel’s Netanyahu says he will pave way to conscript ultra-Orthodox

ultra ortodox jewish men protest against attempts to change government policy that grants ultra orthodox jews exemptions from military conscription, in jerusalem
Members of the Israeli Border Police detain Ultra-Ortodox Jewish men during a protest against attempts to change government policy that grants ultra-Orthodox Jews exemptions from military conscription in Jerusalem February 26, 2024

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday his government would find a way to end exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jews from Israeli military service in the face of political pressures that threaten his narrow coalition’s future.

“We will determine goals for conscripting ultra-Orthodox people to the IDF and national civil service,” Netanyahu said at a press conference, referring to the Israel Defence Forces. “We will also determine the ways to implement those goals.”

Israel’s Supreme Court in 2018 voided a law waiving the draft for ultra-Orthodox men, citing a need for the burden of military service to be shared across Israeli society.

Parliament failed to come up with a new arrangement, and a government-issued stay on mandatory conscription of ultra-Orthodox expires in March.

Ultra-Orthodox parties have helped Netanyahu hold a narrow parliamentary majority alongside far-right nationalist parties but in past governments have made draft exemption a condition for remaining in the coalition.

Netanyahu appeared to be responding to a pledge made by his defense minister to veto a law that would allow the continuation of exemptions unless the government reached an agreement paving a path for ultra-Orthodox enlistment.

“We recognise and support those who dedicate their life to studying Jewish holy scripture but, with that, without physical existence there is no spiritual existence,” Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said on Wednesday.

The exemptions granted to ultra-Orthodox Jews have been a longstanding source of friction with more secular citizens now stoked by the country’s costly mobilisation for the Gaza war.

The ultra-Orthodox claim the right to study in seminaries instead of serving in uniform for the standard three years. Some say their pious lifestyles would clash with military mores, while others voice ideological opposition to the liberal state.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews make up 13% of Israel’s population, a figure expected to reach 19% by 2035 due to their high birth rates. Economists argue that the draft exemption keeps some of them unnecessarily in seminaries and out of the workforce.

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