'War on Judaism': Ruling on ultra-Orthodox Army Draft Sends Political Shockwaves

Emergency messages to Netanyahu from Haredi lawmakers and scathing comments follow High Court's strike down of ultra-Orthodox exemption from military service

A demonstration against the recruitment of Haredi Israelis to the IDF in Jerusalem, March 2017.
Emil Salman

“A miserable and terrible decision,” “A war against the Jewish religion” and “We’ve had just about enough,” were just some of the incensed responses heard Tuesday from the ultra-Orthodox Knesset members after the High Court of Justice struck down the law regulating the exemption of yeshiva students from military service. 

But although the heads of the ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) parties were scathingly critical of the decision, political observers do not believe they will try to bring down the government.

What they will likely do is demand from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the Draft Law be amended to include an override clause that will prevent the High Court from striking it down again. Although Netanyahu was in Argentina on the second day of his trip to Latin America, the Haredi party chairmen sent him a message that termed the situation an emergency that required his immediate intervention.

During their initial consultations the Haredi party heads said they would not agree to a totally new draft law. From their perspective the law that the court struck down was already a compromise and continues to be controversial within the community. The party heads are therefore demanding that the same law be passed with some minor changes and an override clause. 

The obstacle to fulfilling this demand is the Kulanu party, which has a clause in its coalition agreement with Likud that releases it from coalition discipline when it comes to such legislation.

Sources in Habayit Hayehudi claim that there’s an understanding between Kulanu chairman Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and the Haredim under which he would agree to a limited override clause relevant to the Draft Law.

Kahlon is currently on a working visit in China. His party rejected the existence of any such understanding and said that their ideological position on the matter hasn’t changed.

Despite the Haredi parties’ difficult position, no one sees a risk to the coalition. “There has never been nor will there be a better government for the Haredim than this one,” said a coalition source. “The High Court decision may serve as an excuse for going to elections because of the investigations of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but it for sure won’t be the real reason for such a move, if it should happen in the near future.”

Another coalition source said that the High Court ruling actually makes early elections less likely. 

“To go to elections without a [valid] Draft Law would be a huge mistake on the part of the Haredim, and it will take a long time to resolve the problem, perhaps the entire upcoming winter session,” he said. The Haredi MKs, he said, “Won’t agree to go to elections before a new law on the issue is passed.”