Israel's Top Court Extends ultra-Orthodox Draft Exemption Until After Election

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Hundreds of members of the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem faction protest the arrest of a Yeshiva student arrested for not appearing at the draft office, in December.
Hundreds of members of the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem faction protest the arrest of a Yeshiva student arrested for not appearing at the draft office, in December.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The High Court of Justice decided to extend on Tuesday the law that exempts yeshiva students from military service. The state had asked the court on Monday to keep the law valid even though it had expired on Sunday at midnight, due to the Knesset's dissolution and the upcoming election.

The state had requested that it be extended through July 6, which the court accepted, after Defense Minister Benny Gantz had said that he would not seek an extension from the court and would let the law expire.

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The state based its argument on Article 38 of The Basic Law: The Knesset, which reads, “any legislation that would have expired within the last two months of an outgoing Knesset’s term, within four months after a Knesset decided to dissolve, or within the first three months of an incoming Knesset’s term shall remain in force until the end of the aforesaid three months.”

In its brief, the state said that the court has ruled in the past that this article permits extending the validity of the draft exemption law. It also said that Gantz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit all supported the request.

Transportation Minister Uri Maklev of United Torah Judaism, the cabinet secretary and Netanyahu’s chief of staff agreed on Sunday to seek an extension of the law on these grounds.

A source involved in the issue said the army had been preparing over the past few days for the possibility that the law would expire, since if it did, every yeshiva student of draft age would be legally obliged to do military service. But this will now be unnecessary.

The High Court ruled the exemption law unconstitutional in an 8-1 decision in September 2017, but allowed it to remain in force for a year to give the state time to legislate a replacement. Since then, it has periodically approved the state’s requests for postponements of this deadline. But three months ago, it warned that it wouldn’t grant any further extensions.

The Defense Ministry and the army did in fact draft a replacement bill, but due to vehement opposition from the two ultra-Orthodox parties, UTJ and Shas, the government was unable to pass it. Instead, the Knesset dissolved in December 2018 and a new election was held four months later.

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