The High Court of Justice on Friday gave the state until September to explain why the new military conscription law, which the Knesset passed in March, should not be withdrawn. The order came in response to a petition filed by the Movement for Quality Government and other organizations. It and two similar petitions will be heard by an expanded panel of nine justices.
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The Movement for Quality Government and the Israeli Forum for the Promotion of Equal Share in the Burden argue in their petition that the new law, which among other things will gradually raise military service quotas for ultra-Orthodox men and reduce mandatory service for men from 36 months to 32 months, is unconstitutional because it violates the right to equality.
The High Court has addressed the issue of drafting adult yeshiva students on numerous occasions, beginning in the 1970s. Over the years the court has received many petitions involving the legality and constitutionality of deferred service arrangements, sometimes as part of government coalition agreements, for yeshiva students. The first of these, and a number that followed, were rejected on the grounds that the petitioners had no standing or that the issue itself was not justiciable.
The turning point came in 1988, when Justice Aharon Barak ruled that while the issue was justiciable, the defense minister did not exceed his authority when he approved the deferment. In 1997 the court ruled that the deferment issue must be legislated rather than being left to the defense minister. This ruling led to the establishment, in 1999, of the Tal Committee, in the wake of which the so-called Tal Law was passed in 2002.
A petition against this law, filed by the Movement for Quality Government, was rejected in 2006 on the grounds that the law should first be allowed to operate for five years – even the court found that that law violated the right to equality and did not accomplish its stated goals. A separate petition against the Tal Law was accepted in 2012, by a vote of six to three. The majority opinion ruled the law unconstitutional and decided not to extend its application beyond the August 1, 2012 expiration date that was set when it was passed.
Since 2012, three committees have discussed the provisions of a successor to the Tal Law – the Plesner, Perry and Shaked committees – until, in March of this year, a new law was passed calling for raising recruitment goals for Haredi men gradually until July 2017, when its provisions are to go fully into effect.