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Ultra-Orthodox protests erupt as Israel’s supreme court reviews military exemptions

Ultra-Orthodox protests erupt as Israel's supreme court reviews military exemptions
Jun 3, 2024 10:39 AM

Dozens of ultra-Orthodox protesters blocked roads in Jerusalem on Sunday as Israel’s Supreme Court heard arguments in a landmark case challenging a controversial system of exemptions from military service granted to the religious community.

The court is looking at the legality of the exemptions, which have divided the country and threatened to collapse Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition. A decision is expected in the coming weeks.

Most Jewish men and women in Israel are required to serve mandatory military service at the age of 18. However the politically powerful ultra-Orthodox have traditionally received exemptions if they are studying full-time in religious seminaries. These exemptions have infuriated the wider general public, especially as hundreds of soldiers have been killed in the war with Hamas.

During Sunday’s arguments, government lawyers told judges that forcing ultra-Orthodox men to enlist would “tear Israeli society apart.” The court suggested a target of enlisting 3,000 ultra-Orthodox men a year –- more than double the current levels but still less than 25% of their overall numbers.

In Jerusalem, Israeli police cleared protesters from roads and forcefully removed those who briefly blocked the city’s light rail system. Demonstrators chanted “to prison and not to the army.”

In March, the court ordered an end to government subsidies for many ultra-Orthodox men who do not serve in the army.

Netanyahu faces a court-ordered deadline of June 30 to pass a new law that would end the broad exemptions. But he depends on ultra-Orthodox parties to prop up his government, and ending the exemptions could cause them to leave and trigger new elections.

Last Updated:  Jun 5, 2024 6:30 PM