Israel Supreme Court Mandates Ultra-Orthodox Conscription, Threatens Coalition Stability

Court Ruling: Mandatory Conscription

Israel’s Supreme Court has decreed that ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students must immediately enlist in the Israeli military, ending their eligibility for significant government benefits. This ruling could lead to ultra-Orthodox lawmakers withdrawing from the coalition government, potentially causing its collapse.

Background and Previous Rulings

This decision follows a similar Supreme Court ruling in March that halted state subsidies for ultra-Orthodox students studying in yeshivas instead of performing military service. Soon after, the exemption law expired, and no replacement legislation has been introduced.

Demographic and Political Impact

The ultra-Orthodox community, once a small minority, now represents over 12 percent of Israel’s population. Their political factions have consistently supported Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalitions in exchange for maintaining their military service exemptions. As the fastest-growing minority, they receive government funding for private schools and religious organizations. Politicians have long promised to end these subsidies, criticizing the systems that allow their semi-autonomous communities to avoid taxes and military service.

Heightened Tensions Amid Conflict

Tensions have increased since October 7, when Hamas killed around 1,200 Israelis and took approximately 250 hostages into Gaza. The subsequent conflict has resulted in over 37,000 Palestinian deaths, according to Gaza health authorities, who report that most casualties are women and children. Additionally, Israel has been exchanging fire with Hezbollah on the Lebanon border, and counterterrorism raids are on the rise in the West Bank, where militant groups have been active for years. The high number of Israeli soldier casualties has fueled resentment towards the ultra-Orthodox community.

Public Opinion on Military Exemption

A survey by the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) shows that 81 percent of Jewish Israelis support changing the ultra-Orthodox military exemption. Among them, 45 percent advocate for “coercive” measures, while 36 percent favor “persuasive” methods. “The war has intensified the need for all segments of society to contribute to the country’s security,” said Shuki Friedman, vice president of the JPPI. “A vast majority of Israelis believe the social contract needs to be renegotiated.”

Ultra-Orthodox Community’s Dilemma

The ultra-Orthodox community faces a challenging situation. “They want to avoid what they see as a disaster. However, if the government collapses and new elections are held, the outcomes might be less favorable for them,” Friedman noted. Opposition politicians, currently polling ahead of Netanyahu, have promised to represent a broader range of views, potentially resulting in less compromise for the ultra-Orthodox.

This Supreme Court ruling represents a critical juncture in the debate over military service and societal duties, with significant implications for Israel’s political future.