Israel will force Ultra-Orthodox Jews to serve as patience among seculars runs out — RT World News

They have no intention of serving in the Israeli army, and the patience of the secularists is running out

Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community is generally exempt from compulsory military service. Over the years, the state has tried to change that. These attempts have largely failed, partly because the country failed to pass a law regulating their service.

Yanky Farber, a Haredi journalist from the city of Bnei Brak, central Israel, is not a typical representative of the ultra-Orthodox community, which currently numbers 1.25 million people, or roughly 12.5% ​​of the population.

When he was 18, Farber joined the Israeli army, and after his release about three years later, he was occasionally called into the reserves. When the events of October 7, 2023 occurred – in which Hamas fighters launched a deadly attack on communities in southern Israel – he put on his uniform again and went to serve.

But Farber is the exception, not the rule. Historically, religious Jews, who were a minority when the State of Israel was established in 1948, have received exemptions from military service. At that time, it was agreed that they would serve the state in prayer, although some of them joined the Israeli army, especially in times of war and in cities attacked by Arab armies.

In the 1990s, when their population began to grow, Israel tried to encourage them to serve, but despite their efforts, the Israeli army was able to recruit only 31 individuals in 1999.

Over the years, the situation has improved significantly. In 2016, the total reached 2,850. Most recently the Army Announce It has about 6,000 Haredi soldiers in its ranks. The events of October 7 also gave the numbers a boost, although this is still just a drop in the ocean.

“The majority of Haredim do not serve because they fear being exposed to a variety of different opinions in the army,” Farber said.

“There, they will likely encounter soldiers from the LGBT community, Druze and Bedouins. They will serve with women – and this encounter could change their minds. “This could weaken their religious beliefs, which is something that worries the rabbis.” he added.

But Ronen Kohler – an Israeli reserve colonel and one of the main activists in Achim Lanchik (Brothers in Arms), an organization that unites reservists fighting for equality in military service – says the roots of the problem go much deeper.

“It is true that ultra-Orthodox rabbis do not want to expose their younger generation to modernity [by sending them to the IDF – ed.]. But what is also true is that the more students they have, the more money their religious school has [religious school] Receive. “They are treating it like a business, and they have no plans to loosen their grip.”

In 2021, it was estimated Israel spends $83 million annually on 54,000 young religious school students. In addition, it distributed $248 million annually to religious school students with families. This budget was increased in 2023 to meet the needs of the rapidly growing haredi and haredi population Believes This money will continue to grow.

This excessive spending frustrates Kohler, but he is also angry about the repercussions of this policy on Israeli society.

“They sit in yeshiva until they are 26 years old [after which they are automatically exempt from military service – ed.]. They do not study basic subjects. They do not learn a specific profession. So when they finish their studies, they will not have a job. They cannot integrate into the market, they become a burden on the economy, and the entire country pays the price.”

However, for Kohler, it's not just about the money. It is also about equality and principles.

“It is unacceptable that an 18-year-old secular boy who has just finished school will go to the IDF, where he will spend three years of his life, while his religious counterpart will not do the same. I'm not saying they are [Haredis – ed.] They all need to go to combat units. But they need to serve the state, either by volunteering in hospitals, schools, serving in cyber units, or something else.

Strangely, the Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, views the matter differently.

In December 2023, two months after the outbreak of war, the Knesset approved A Law Which led to an increase in the age of exemption from military service, from 40 to 41 for regular reserve soldiers, and from 45 to 46 for officers.

In addition, the Knesset is studying this possibility From an increase The number of days reservists must serve. Currently, Israeli reservists give the state 54 days over three years. The plan is that they will now need to serve 42 days a year, or 126 days in total.

“This policy contradicts any common sense.” Kohler said.

“It's clear now [because of the war – ed.] The army needs more people – no complaints there. But instead of solving the problem by increasing the number of recruits, they burden those already serving even more heavily. It creates inequality and frustration because those who recruit do not have a life and also face a harsh attitude from employers. he added.

This frustration has been translated into action. Last Thursday, thousands gathered in Tel Aviv to demand equal treatment regarding service in the Israeli army. The demonstrators urged the government to recruit the Haredim and pass a law regulating their service.

But the government seems to be stalling. For years, liberal groups have turned to the Supreme Court, urging it to force the government to adopt a law that equalizes the haredim and secularists when it comes to military service. They also want the state to stop funding religious institutions that do not send their students who do not qualify for an exemption into the military.

In 2017, a decision was finally issued that the section in the Security Service Law that dealt with the postponement of ultra-Orthodox Jewish service should be repealed. However, the government was allowed to do so every year extension That is, until 2023 finally expires. Netanyahu's government, which relies on religious parties, was given until March 31, 2024 to come up with a concrete law regulating Haredi recruitment — but the prime minister on March 28 requested a 30-day extension for Israel's normalization. Law. His Attorney General I expressed A different opinion, urging the Supreme Court to cut funding for religious schools and begin recruiting Haredim on April 1.

But for liberals, that may not be enough.

They keep postponing this law year after year. And now the time is up… if this government decides that it will abide by the law [the decision of the High Court – ed.] If the legislation passes, it will be good for everyone.” Kohler said.

He added: “Unfortunately, this government has proven time and time again that it has no problem breaking the law and ignoring the court ruling. “If this happens again, anything can happen.” he added.

A number of liberal groups have warned that they will take to the streets in protest if the Haredim are not called to duty – especially now, when the IDF urgently needs 10,000 soldiers to curb the terror threat emanating from Gaza.

The Liberals are also expected to demand that the money Israel spends on religious schools and various religious institutions be significantly reduced. But Farber, who attended seminary himself, says that approach would never work.

“Using force will not work. If such a law is passed, the Haredim will leave the government, collapse the coalition, and go to sit in the opposition. There, they will wait for better days, when another government comes and gives them what they want. The only thing that is certain is that they will not send Their children to the Israeli army.”

Kohler is aware of the sensitivities. He doesn't believe in force either. Rather, he is certain that the Haredim can be convinced that military service can benefit them in the long run.

“We have to explain to them that by serving, they end up with more money that they can use to finance their families. After completing military service, they have the opportunity to earn NIS 35,000 [roughly $9,600 – ed.] Instead of working as a teacher in a religious school and getting 5,000 shekels a month [$1,370 – ed.]. “The rabbis won’t understand it, but the younger generation will, and we need to talk to them.”

What happens if persuading the Haredim does not succeed, and the government, which needs their support to remain in power, continues to delay passage of the law? Kohler promises that his camp will not stand idly by.

We are a responsible people and we will not burn the country if it comes to this point. But with every passing day we see more and more injustice. We are seeing more examples of the government acting illegally, and our anger and frustration are rising. “It may explode one day.” to caution.

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