Israeli ultra-Orthodox minister breaks ranks on military draft

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Israeli ultra-Orthodox minister breaks ranks on military draft

Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Israel police attempts to disperse protestors outside an army recruitment office in Jerusalem. — AFP pic

JERUSALEM, April 12 — An Israeli minister said yesterday that after Hamas’s October 7 attack, there was no longer a “moral” justification to exempt ultra-Orthodox Jewish men from army service, breaking a long-standing taboo within his community.

Israel’s ruling coalition has been scrambling to find a compromise on drafting ultra-Orthodox men following an order last month from the country’s top court, effectively striking down the decades-old exemption as of April 1.

Interior Minister Moshe Arbel, of ultra-Orthodox party Shas, said that “the reality after October 7 is that the ultra-Orthodox community must understand that it is no longer possible to continue like this.”

With the country at war for more than six months since the unprecedented Hamas attack, Arbel told a podcast “there is no moral possibility” for students of Jewish seminaries, or yeshivas, to avoid the draft.

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Military service is compulsory for most Israelis, but ultra-Orthodox men studying religion full-time had been largely exempt due to a policy that dates to the state’s early years.

While around the time of Israel’s establishment in 1948 it had only affected around 400 yeshiva students, the measure today concerns around 66,000 ultra-Orthodox men aged between 18 and 26.

The issue has long divided Israeli society, with parts of it demanding that the ultra-Orthodox community contribute to the country’s security like others.

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The court order, following years of delays, means the army can now call up ultra-Orthodox men for service, but that has yet to happen. Religious women are generally not subject to conscription orders.

Shas, one of two ultra-Orthodox parties in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, distanced itself from Arbel’s remarks as it hopes to agree a compromise on the thorny issue with other factions.

“Party representatives have been ordered not to comment on the issue,” Shas said in a statement, stressing that the party line would be decided by its religious leaders.

Yesterday thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews rallied in Jerusalem to protest the plans to remove the exemption, which according to signs carried by the demonstrators would lead to “the destruction of yeshivas”.

Israel police attempts to disperse protestors outside an army recruitment office in Jerusalem. — AFP pic

Israel police attempts to disperse protestors outside an army recruitment office in Jerusalem. — AFP pic

Israeli men are recruited for 32 months, and women for two years.

The ultra-Orthodox community numbers nearly 1.3 million people, or about 14 percent of Israel’s population, and is fast growing with fertility rates that far exceed the national average, according to the Israel Democracy Institute think tank.

Some ultra-Orthodox men including Arbel have served in the military, but most members of the close-knit community vehemently oppose it.

They argue that serving in a mixed-gender environment or with non-religious people is incompatible with their values. — AFP

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