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Israel: The clash between politics and religion that puts Netanyahu’s government in trouble

Israel: The clash between politics and religion that puts Netanyahu’s government in trouble

Israel: The clash between politics and religion that puts Netanyahu’s government in trouble

Israel It is one of the limited third of countries in the world where military service is still mandatory. According to Hebrew law, men and women must report to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) when they turn 18 and serve at least 36 and 24 months, respectively. A condition that has so far escaped ultra-Orthodox Jews, a religious group whose members were forced to enlist in the army since August after a surprise court ruling.

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In late June, Israel’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled that “there is no legal basis for excluding ultra-Orthodox men from the project”So he forced the government to enroll him and ordered that subsidies be cut to Talmudic schools (the Talmud is the immense civil and religious code prepared by Hebrew scholars) that do not comply with the provision.

In response to this decision, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced this week that starting next month, the recruitment of haredim, as ultra-Orthodox Jews are called in Hebrew, will be ordered.

The issue has caused great turmoil in Israel, not only because it puts an end to more than 75 years of exemption for this huge and important group, but also represents great pressure on the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, who returned to power thanks to an alliance with ultra-religious formations.

It should be noted, however, that the measure is supported by a large segment of the civilian population that for years has demanded that the ultra-Orthodox fulfill the same civic obligations as the rest of the inhabitants.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced that the recruitment of Haredim will be ordered starting in August, in accordance with the provisions of the Supreme Court of Justice.

But why did the Haredim have this special status? To do this we have to go back 76 years, to the founding of the State of Israel.

This is a very old issue that has now come back with a vengeance due to the war against Hamas. In May 1948, when Israel declared its independence, Prime Minister Ben Gurion met with authorities, religious leaders, and Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox rabbis. The rabbis explained that there were Jews who wanted to dedicate their lives to the study of Torah (Jewish law and theology) and proposed to the government that, as a Jewish state, it was essential to have people who were entirely dedicated to the spiritual. In addition, it was agreed that the government would subsidize them. At that time, we were talking about 400 people who were not legally eligible to join the army. Over the years, this group grew considerably and became a way of life.“, explains the The trade the rabbi of the Israelite Union of Peru, Simantob Nigri.

Today, there are modern Orthodox Zionists who join the army, but there are also ultra-Orthodox Zionists who may be more or less Zionist, but who lead a life like Noah’s Ark; that is, they see everything that is happening in the world and decide to dedicate themselves to the sacred. For many years, they had the government’s approval not to join the army. There are many people who are in favor of this tradition, but it also generates a lot of controversy, especially on the left, which defends that all citizens should have the same benefits and obligations.“, details the religious leader.

Since 1948, Haredim have been exempt from conscription into the Israeli army. However, the debate over whether this measure should be maintained has flared up frequently over the years.

Since 1948, Haredim have been exempt from conscription into the Israeli army. However, the debate over whether this measure should be maintained has flared up frequently over the years.

There are currently an estimated 63,000 Haredi youth of military age living in Israel. However, the military has predicted that it will only be able to recruit about 3,000 of them this year.

The main difficulty is that this population would present special requirements that would force the IDF to restructure its battalions.

The Israeli military system does not necessarily have a religious life but rather a very secular one: women and men live together in the same spaces, the food will not always be 100% kosher, to what extent can one desecrate Shabbat to go to war for more than the law allows, these are some of the problems that ultra-Orthodox people who are entirely dedicated to religion would face.” explains Rabbi Simantob Nigri.

As for the Talmudic schools or yeshiva, centers where these young women dedicated to religion are trained, they would be in a complicated situation if the government decided to cut their educational and social assistance subsidies.

Netanyahu initially tried to reduce the impact of this measure by reintroducing a bill that aims to lower the age, from 26 to 21, at which ultra-Orthodox Jews must be enrolled in a yeshiva to avoid military service.

For the most part, more than 50 percent of the yeshiva’s budget comes from the state, the rest usually comes from donations. This is the classic model. The state is now talking about not supporting these schools, which could lead to a crisis. Although many leaders have said that they can continue to operate with donations from abroad. “I know of Talmudic schools that have never received government money for their ideology; for them, for example, it would not make any difference now,” says Nigri, who is also vice president of the Interreligious Council of Peru.

Yeshiva or Talmudic schools, where haredim are educated, that do not comply with the court ruling would no longer receive state subsidies, according to the Supreme Court's decision.

Yeshiva or Talmudic schools, where haredim are educated, that do not comply with the court ruling would no longer receive state subsidies, according to the Supreme Court ruling. (JALAA MAREY/)

But in reality, this situation could not only cause a serious social crisis, but above all a political crisis. In December 2022, when Netanyahu returned to power a year after leaving through the wrong door due to the numerous corruption scandals against him, he did so alongside a coalition composed mainly of more conservative right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties such as Shas, or United Torah Judaism.

Since then, the prime minister has not only had to overcome constant crises caused by his criticized figure, but also scandals involving his most controversial allies. The attack perpetrated by Hamas on October 7 last year also opened a new front of problems within the government.

Nine months after what is considered the worst attack in Israel’s history, in the midst of a war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip and against Hezbollah on the northern border, in Hebrew lands there is not only discussion about whether Netanyahu should remain in power or whether the military strategy is correct, but also what the future of the armed forces is.

Even secularists and right-wing supporters of Netanyahu believe that after the October 7 attack we need more soldiers. Traditionally, Israeli generals have chosen to have a small and intelligent army, but after what happened due to the abandonment of the border, it was clear that we need a robust army, we need more people, this is also the opinion of the population.“, he comments The trade Gabriel Ben Tasgal, political analyst specializing in Middle Eastern affairs and director of Hatzad Hasheni.

Different surveys carried out in Israel between 2012 and 2024 reflect that between 70% and 85% of the population would be in favor of eliminating the exemption for Haredim not to serve in the army.

The coalition that brought Netanyahu back to power in December 2022 is made up largely of more conservative right-wing parties and ultra-Orthodox groups.

The coalition that brought Netanyahu back to power in December 2022 is made up mostly of more conservative right-wing parties and ultra-Orthodox groups. (RONEN ZVULUN/)

However, Ben Tasgal estimates that the coalition led by Netanyahu will be able to bypass this court provision, not necessarily because he agrees, but because it represents basically the only option to remain in power.

There is no alternative, in a possible fight between the ultra-Orthodox and the government, Netanyahu would fall, he would leave power but the ultra-Orthodox would not be in a better situation because the alternative is a center-left government that would force them to enlist more.”, explains the analyst.

In this sense, the expert considers that the situation represents a new chapter in the long book of confrontations that Netanyahu has had with the justice system since his return to power.

This is a new clash between the Supreme Court and the government. The main problem is that the Israeli judicial system is dominated by a universalist group that believes it is time to pressure the government in the face of the threat of a judicial reform that would take away much of the power it has held for 30 years. “In addition, they are taking advantage of the popular feeling that more soldiers are needed,” Ben Tasgal points to a controversial protest filed by Netanyahu last year that sought to strip the Supreme Court of its ability to overturn laws enacted by Parliament.

It should be noted that the aforementioned reform, which triggered an unprecedented wave of social protests during 2023 in Israel, was annulled by the court itself in January of this year. The government then considered that the court had co-opted all the powers of the State and described it as undemocratic.

Source: Elcomercio

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