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Suzie Navot
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Will ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students finally be drafted?

If Netanyahu wants ongoing Haredi draft exemptions and funding, he should explain why that's legal. So far, he hasn't bothered
Ultra-Orthodox men sit outside the army recruitment office in Jerusalem, after clashes during a protest of the Haredi draft, as a group of male and female soldiers stand behind them, March 4, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/ Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox men sit outside the army recruitment office in Jerusalem, after clashes during a protest of the Haredi draft, as a group of male and female soldiers stand behind them, March 4, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/ Flash90)

The interim order issued by the Supreme Court last night is a dramatic milestone, perhaps the beginning of a new era in meeting the critical standard of equality in bearing the burden of Israel’s security. It is an “interim” order, as its name suggests. Before us lies another hearing on the issue of ultra-Orthodox enlistment in the Supreme Court, scheduled for May, with a panel of nine judges. This is the conclusion of just one chapter in a long series related to Haredi enlistment. The final chapter, however, still seems distant.

Here is a summary of the previous chapters:

About six months ago, on June 30, 2023, the Security Service Law that allowed the exemption of military service for Haredi yeshiva students expired. Five days before the June deadline, the government voted on a resolution (known as Resolution 682 of June 25, 2023), stating that until new legislation is enacted, the IDF is not to take steps to enlist yeshiva students… until March 31, 2024.

The government instructed the army not to enforce the enlistment of yeshiva students until the end of March, even though there was no law exempting them — meaning they are, theoretically required, like all other Israelis, to enlist in the IDF. The problem with the government’s decision was that, according to the Israeli Supreme Court, since 1998, a decision that affects the principle of equality to such an extent cannot be made solely by the executive branch of government, but must be determined by legislation of the Knesset. In other words, the enlistment of yeshiva students cannot be deferred solely by a government decision. It requires a law enacted by the Knesset.

Petitions were filed to the Supreme Court with two central claims:

  • Firstly, that Government Resolution 682, regarding the deferral of enlistment, should be annulled.
  • Secondly, that in the absence of a legal basis for the deferral of service, the state cannot support yeshiva students of draft age, nor can it fund their yeshivas.

The hearing in the Supreme Court took place a month ago, and, at its conclusion, the justices issued two conditional orders. The first demanded that the state explain by March 27, 2024, why the relevant clause in the government decision should not be revoked. The second order demanded that the state explain by March 31, 2024, why — despite the repeal of the conscription law — financial support should be provided to yeshiva students.

The government failed to present the Supreme Court with a legislative plan that would be “constitutional” and abide sufficiently with the principle of equality.

To persuade the Supreme Court to grant an additional three-month extension to legislate the law, a proposal that would address the army’s security needs and the requirement to draft the yeshiva students, even if gradually, needed to be formulated and presented. Any legitimate proposal would have to include incentives and personal sanctions — in legislation, that would address the needs of the army, and especially the heavy burden on the serving population. The proposal needed to be based on facts, data and professional opinion. But no such plan was presented to the Supreme Court. In fact, nothing was presented to it.

Last night, three hours before the deadline, the prime minister filed a request for a 30-day postponement. He did not attach a blueprint for possible conscription models, any data, or facts. Not even proof of “significant progress.”

The Supreme Court accepted the position of the attorney general, according to which, in the absence of a normative basis, starting from April 1, 2024, there is no authority to transfer funds to yeshivas for students who have not been exempted or deferred from military service. The order will come into effect immediately. Justices Vogelman, Amit, and Solberg clarified that they saw no reason to allow even short-term transitional provisions, given that transference of funds after April 1 is illegal, and there is no legal basis for continued funding.

This is an explicit, clear, and essentially immediate ruling.

The ruling also includes an exception regarding certain institutions, that will continue to receive funds until the end of the current academic year, which ends in early August.

Finally, the prime minister also received the postponement he requested, at least in part. He will be allowed to submit additional supplementary statements until April 30, 2024, and the petitions will be heard in May before a panel of nine judges. More will follow. This crisis has not yet come to an end. Hopefully, in the next chapters of this series, equal burden will appear.

About the Author
Professor Suzie Navot is a professor of constitutional law and the vice president of the Israel Democracy Institute.
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