Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Israel’s conscription law angers hardliners


For decades, there has been debate about the role of the ultra-Orthodox in Israeli society. From a small minority, they now number one million, making up 12.9% of the population.

The ultra-Orthodox parties have often played the role of kingmaker in Israeli politics, providing support to successive governments led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in exchange for continued exemption from military service and hundreds of millions of dollars for their institutions.

This has long been a source of friction with secular Jewish Israelis, who mostly serve in the military and pay the largest share of taxes. But the issue has now come to a head at a particularly sensitive time, as the military faces unprecedented pressure following its longest-ever war in Gaza and a possible second war with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

“My son has already served 200 days in the reserves! How many years do you want him to serve? How can you not be ashamed?” Mor Shamgar asked, rebuking Israel’s national security adviser at a recent conference in Herzliya.

Her angry comments about her son – who serves as a tank commander in southern Israel – were widely shared on social media.

With army leaders complaining about a shortage of military manpower, Shamgar – who says she previously voted for the prime minister’s party – believes the government has “handled the situation very badly,” putting its political survival above national interests on the conscription issue.

“Netanyahu and his gang made a huge mistake in their judgment when they thought they could get away with this,” she tells me. “Because once you force half the population to serve in the army, you can’t force the other half not to. It’s not even a matter of secular versus religious. I see it as a matter of equality. You can’t make laws that make half the population second-class citizens.”

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Earlier this year, a poll by the Israel Democracy Institute indicated that 70% of Israeli Jews want to end the blanket exemption from military service for the ultra-Orthodox.

Despite previous threats, the hardline parties have not yet withdrawn from the ruling coalition over the military draft. Attempts continue to push through an older bill—once rejected by hardline leaders—that would have led to partial conscription of their sect.

In an ultra-Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem, men of all ages gather in prayer shawls for morning prayers. Their conservative way of life is based on a strict interpretation of Jewish law and customs.

So far, only one battalion in the IDF, the Netzah Yehuda Battalion, has been created specifically to meet the ultra-Orthodox demands for gender segregation through special requirements regarding kosher food, time for prayer and daily rituals.

Rainerio Manuel
Rainerio Manuel

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