Will Netanyahu Conscript the Haredim?
Programmes
22 Mar 2024

Will Netanyahu Conscript the Haredim?

This article was originally published on Ahram Online on Mar. 22, 2024.       The question of conscripting Ultra-Orthodox Jews, commonly known as Haredim, into the Israeli military has once again taken centre stage. This resurgence in debate follows calls by secularists, supported by several war cabinet members, including Defence Minister Yoav Gallant. During a press conference on Feb. 28, they advocated for amending conscription laws to include the Haredim.   The urgency behind these calls is fuelled by various challenges Israel currently faces. These include a labour shortage exacerbated by the ongoing Isarel-Hamas War and tensions along the northern border with Hezbollah. The potential inclusion of Haredim in military service has sparked significant controversy within the Haredi community. Chief Sephardi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef even issued a warning of a mass exodus of Haredi Jews from Israel if conscription becomes mandatory.   This latest call reignites an enduring conflict within Israeli society, rooted in the exemption privileges historically granted to Haredim. The issue remains unresolved due to the influence of religious parties, the political considerations of prime ministers, and the social dynamics within Israeli society. The exemption policies have long been a contention, particularly among secular citizens. Tensions escalated during the costly mobilisation efforts for the Isarel-Hamas War, with over 66,000 Ultra-Orthodox youths exempted from military service in 2023 alone. This disparity has led to increased demands for the inclusion of Haredim in the military service, especially given the multiple security threats faced by Israel since Oct. 7.   Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's return to power in late 2022 alongside the right-wing bloc underscored their determination to challenge conscription policies. Netanyahu's efforts to amend the Judicial Authority Law, dubbed "judicial reform", were met with widespread opposition from the secular community, leading to massive demonstrations.   These amendments aimed to circumvent a 2017 Supreme Court ruling that invalidated legislation preventing Haredim's conscription. Despite government concessions, including multiple deferments of recruitment deadlines, the issue remains unresolved. As the latest extension is set to expire on Mar. 31, a looming question remains: Will Netanyahu conscript the Haredim?