Israel’s Supreme Court strikes down law increasing number of draft exemptions for yeshiva students

Sep 12, 2017

A haredi Orthodox man watching Israeli soldiers at an army ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Feb. 22, 2012. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90/JTA)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Supreme Court struck down a law that increased the number of draft exemptions for haredi Orthodox yeshiva students.

The legislation, passed two years ago, was “unconstitutional, disproportionate, and harms equality,” the justices wrote in the majority decision,  which was backed by eight of the nine members of the court. The law’s stated purpose of reducing the inequality of the burden of military service was not achieved, the justices said.

The court gave the government one year to rework the draft for haredi men.

Among those that welcomed the move was the Yesh Atid party, which has been demanding that the haredim serve in the Israel Defense Forces.

“Values won today, the spirit of IDF won today, our soldiers won today,” Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid said in a news conference Tuesday evening in Tel Aviv. “It’s clear that things can be different. Today we started to turn the ship towards sanity and values. That’s why we are in politics. Everyone serves. Everyone works.”

Arye Deri, the head of the Sephardi Orthodox Shas party and the nation’s interior minister, slammed the ruling, saying the decision “again proves the serious disconnect between the Supreme Court and the Jewish people, who have known through all generations that what holds us together against persecution and decrees was Torah study.”

The legislation was an amendment to the Equal Service Law, which superseded and weakened a law supported by Yesh Atid that would have required more haredi Orthodox men to do their mandatory military service.

The haredi exemptions had been a condition of Shas and the United Torah Judaism party when they agreed to join the government coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud party following national elections in 2015.

The laws were a follow up to the Tal Law, first passed in 2002, which exempted thousands of yeshiva students but did not allow them to work during that time period. The Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional in 2009 and it expired in 2012.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu can’t continue to avoid a decision; the IDF draft is for everyone. Everyone. Not just for suckers who don’t have a party in the coalition,” Lapid said. “We’re done being suckers. The court decided that we will not have first- and second-class citizens in Israel.”

Haredi Jews, as opposed to the modern or “religious Zionist” Orthodox who regularly serve in the IDF, were exempted from military service under agreements that go back to the founding of the state.