In Israel, the army has been told it must prepare for the conscription of ultra-Orthodox Jews after legislation exempting them expired.
It follows a ruling by the country’s Supreme Court in February which declared the so called Tal Law unconstitutional and discriminatory.
The exemption permitted seminary students to defer military service.
Its expiry, however, looks set to create a political clash which has divided Israel for decades leading to protests. .
For many secular Israelis who were required to enlist at the age of 18 – three years for men and two years for women – the Tal Law was seen as a way for ultra-orthodox Jews to draft dodge.
“The state of Israel just can’t hold an entire sector that doesn’t do anything for the country -not financially, not for the country’s defence force. Every citizen, all of us, must do something. Don’t ask only what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Boaz Nol, the leader of the protest movement against military exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jews, said.
But many in Israel’s insular and rapidly expanding ultra-orthodox community say they will not enlist, arguing they must devote their lives to the holy texts.
MP and Chairman of United Torah Judaism said: “Protesters are taking advantage of the fact that recruitment is obligatory, which is fuelling anger and hatred. We would like to remove conscription altogether and establish a professional army, just like in the US.’‘
What began with the creation of the Israeli state in 1948 exempting a few hundred ultra-Orthodox students from military commitments has mushroomed. Now the Haredim, or ‘‘praying Army of Israel’‘ numbers some 60,000 and is increasing by the year. That is partly down to the ultra-Orthodox community’s very high birth rate.
But with the Tal law’s expiry conscription is now governed by legislation which requires all Israelis to enlist, unless specifically exempted by the government.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak has given the military one month to draw up a recruitment plan.
At the same time Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, will attempt to agree a new law which fixes the matter once and for all.
That will be easier said than done. Last month, Israel’s centrist Kadima Party left Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, rejecting his right-wing Likud Party’s proposals to replace Tal.
The coalition’s religious groups have also threatened to quit if the exemption is abolished jeopardising the very fabric of the Israeli government.
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