Israeli court halts subsidies for ultra-Orthodox, deepening turmoil over mandatory military service

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the government would no longer provide subsidies to ultra-Orthodox religious men who don’t serve in the military. This is a landmark ruling which could have a far-reaching impact for both the government and for the tens or thousands of religious men refusing to participate in compulsory military service.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, faces the greatest threat to his government yet as he struggles with a major division over military service within the fragile national unity government that was thrown together days after Hamas’ Oct. 7th attack.

The powerful ultra-Orthodox bloc, which has been a partner of Netanyahu’s for many years, wants to keep the exemptions from the draft. Both former generals who are members of Netanyahu’s War Cabinet and the centrists have argued that Israel must fight Hamas militants on Gaza Strip with equal contributions from all sections of society.

The country will be forced to hold new elections if the ultra-Orthodox party leaves the government. Netanyahu is trailing in the polls despite the war.

Let my People Go

Passover is a celebration of freedom from our oppressors, yet Israel and its people are still seeking freedom & waiting for the Peace of Jerusalem. For this Passover, the Genesis 123 Foundation is working to ensure Israel has the resources to fend off any additional attacks from Iran and its terrorist proxies. Will you help Israel defeat the new Pharaoh today?

Let my People Go
1776 Coalition Sponsored

The majority of Jewish men must serve in the military for nearly three years, followed by several years of reserve service. Jewish women are required to serve two years.

The ultra-Orthodox have historically received exemptions for studying full-time in religious seminaries. They make up approximately 13% of Israeli society.

Many people are angry about the exemptions, as well as government stipends that many seminary students get up to age 26. The tensions that have existed for many years have increased during the nearly six-month war, in which more than 500 Israeli soldiers were killed.

The Supreme Court ruled that the current system is discriminatory. It has given the government until next Monday to come up with a new plan, and until 30 June to adopt it. Netanyahu asked the court on Thursday for an extension of 30 days to reach a compromise.

The court did respond immediately to his request. The court issued a temporary order that prohibits the government from funding monthly subsidies for religious student between 18 and 26 years old who have not received deferrals from the military within the last year. The funds will be frozen on April 1.

According to Israel’s Channel 12 TV, the ruling will impact about a third (180,000) of the seminary students that receive government subsidies for full-time education. The government said that the subsidies might be covered temporarily by discretionary funds of the ruling coalition.

Benny Gantz – Netanyahu’s main political rival, and a member the three-man War Cabinet – praised the decision of the court and said that it recognized the “need for soldiers in a war difficult, and for everyone to participate in the right to service the country.”

The war in Gaza has caused a shortage of manpower, according to the Israeli army.

They say their devout life style and commitment to the Jewish commandments will protect Israel just as much as an army. Religious leaders have pledged to fight any attempt to force ultra-Orthodox males into the army. They have also staged protests in the past against similar attempts.

Aryeh deri, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, described the decision of the court as “unprecedented harassment of Torah students in Israel.”

In a letter to the Supreme Court, Netanyahu requested an extension. He said that more time was needed to reach an agreement. “Because it has been shown in the past, that enlistment with no agreed-upon arrangements has the opposite impact.”