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The New Arab Staff

Israel court extends law allowing ultra-Orthodox students to dodge draft

The law exempting ultra-Orthodox Jews from military service has been delayed until July 6 [AFP]

Date of publication: 10 February, 2021

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The government justified the latest request on grounds of the dissolution of the Knesset and upcoming elections, Israeli media report.

Israel's top court has extended a law that allows students at ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminaries to dodge military service, ahead of the country's upcoming elections, according to Haaretz.

The high court accepted the government's late request to extend the law to 6 July, despite the opposition of Defence Minister Benny Gantz.

Gantz's position was widely seen as a campaign stunt to shore up support for his liberal Blue and White alliance ahead of Knesset polls.

The conscription of Ultra-orthodox Jews is a sensitive topic in Israel. The community is largely exempt from military service if they are engaged in religious study, something which has provoked the ire of Israel's secular core for whom conscription is mandatory.

A historic law exempting most ultra-Orthodox Jews, known as Haredim, from military service was overturned by Israel's high court in 2017 on the grounds it was unconstitutional.

The court gave the government time to legislate a replacement law or begin conscripting Haredi men.

While the government received permission to delay the formation of the bill due to ongoing work on a replacement law, the latest request was justified due to the dissolution of the Knesset and upcoming elections, Israeli media reported.

Variations of the draft law have been proposed by the Knesset but rejected by the high court in a decade-long legal and political saga.

Powerful ultra-Orthodox parties have also stood in the way of replacing the legislation, with issues regarding religion and state triggering early elections in December 2018 and proving to be a source of contention in the following two votes.

Read also: Netanyahu praises police over ultra-Orthodox protests

A bill proposed by the defence ministry set minimum yearly targets for conscription among Haredi Jews. If these numbers were not met then Jewish seminaries would be sanctioned. It also formalised exemptions for most Yeshiva students.

In February last year, the Israeli military said it found "serious, systemic failures" in its own reporting that inflated figures on the enlistment of ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Public broadcaster Kan revealed in early December that Israeli forces "doubled or even tripled" the number of ultra-Orthodox men drafted into the military over the past several years. 

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