Tensions continue in Israel after exemption of ultra-Orthodox deemed 'unconstitutional'

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Photo: Israel "Defense" Forces
Photo: Israel "Defense" Forces

The ongoing struggle for ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Jews in Israel to maintain their status as draft-exempt continues. In the latest development in a story that has had many twists and turns, a 12th September decision by the Israeli Supreme Court ruled the status quo - an arrangement  allowing for mass exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jews - was unconstitutional, and discriminatory. It gave the government a year to resolve the matter.

Most ultra-Orthodox seminary students currently gain exemption from military service on religious grounds, but they must obtain their exemption through a regular conscription procedure. Many people have refused, and been arrested. The week following the Supreme Court's decision, a protest in Jerusalem was prompted by the arrest of one such refuser, and resulted in the arrest of eight more people, and three people being hospitalised. They were met with riot-control tactics by the police (water canons and mounted officers), and the police later started an investigation into their own response.

In 2014 the Israeli government passed a law aimed at increasing ultra-Orthodox enlistment. From 1948, Yeshiva students have had their enlistment repeatedly deferred until their eventual exemption. This was originally designed to exempt a few hundred people; now the numbers are in the tens of thousands.

Within Israel society, the issue is heavily contested. Many have criticised the exclusion of the ultra-Orthodox, believing them not to be participating in the 'broader Israeli enterprise', and arguing that they would benefit personally from conscription (Tzvia Greenfield in Haaretz). Others recognise it to be an example of the Israel military trying to "make participation in the military a marker of equality and citizenship”.

Sources: Haaretz, Only the Israeli Army Will Help the Country's ultra-Orthodox, 25 September 2017; Jerusalem Post, Investigation launched into police misconduct at violent Haredi protest18 September 2017; Reuters, Ultra-Orthodox protesters arrested in violent clash in Jerusalem, 17 September 2017; The New York Times, Israel’s Military Exemption for Ultra-Orthodox Is Ruled Unconstitutional12 September 2017; War Resisters' International, 'Hardline haredi elements' Protest the Draft in Israel, 17 October 2014; War Resisters' International, Palestinian Druze, reservists, conscripts and ultra-Ortodox refuse; Israel attempts to draw in more groups to the military, 29 August 2014.

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