High Court rules that ultra-Orthodox draft exemption is unconstitutional

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An amendment to a draft law which allowed the exemption of members of the ultra-Orthodox community from IDF conscription, or civil national service, has been judged to be unconstitutional by Israel’s High Court.

Eight of the nine judges agreed that the draft amendment was unlawful, with the court ruling that it would be suspended for a year to provide the Government time to formulate a new draft law in its place.

MK Moshe Gafni, of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, pledged that “in the course of the coming year we will fix this,” adding that “our entire right to exist as a people depends on yeshiva students, as well as the entire world”.

Shas leader Aryeh Deri also vowed to fight the ruling, saying: “We will employ all our might to amend the law in such a way that the existing arrangement will continue.”

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, welcomed the ruling: “The High Court of Justice ruled that there are no first class and second class citizens in Israel. The values and the spirit of the IDF won, our soldiers won today.”

Lapid’s party supported the 2014 Equal Service Law, which required all but 1,800 full-time ultra-Orthodox seminary students to enlist for either IDF service or civilian national service by the age of 21. The law was to be fully implemented by 2027.

However, an amendment was added in 2015 at the behest of the ultra-Orthodox parties joining the government coalition which postponed the drafting of ultra-Orthodox students until 2020, after which point draft targets were to be set “in accordance with the recommendation of the defence minister”. It is this amendment that the High Court yesterday overturned.

Writing in Maariv, political commentator Ben Caspit has said the ruling is not likely to cause a collapse of the coalition, with none of the ruling parties interested in holding an election at the present time. He also suggested that Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked will table a new draft law will that will pass the scrutiny of the High Court.