Home News Middle East crisis: Half a million people face starvation in Gaza, report...

Middle East crisis: Half a million people face starvation in Gaza, report says

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In April, demonstrations broke out in Jerusalem against the recruitment of ultra-Orthodox people into the Israeli army.Credit…Ohad Zwigenberg/AP

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that the military must begin conscripting ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, a decision that could split Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unity government during the Gaza war.

The nine judges ruled unanimously that the exemption long granted to many ultra-Orthodox religious students from military service has no legal basis. The court ruled that since there is no law distinguishing between seminary students and other men of military age, the country’s compulsory military service law must apply equally to the ultra-Orthodox minority.

Ultra-Orthodox exemptions have long been a bone of contention among secular Israelis in a country where most Jewish men and women must serve in the military. But as the Gaza war enters its ninth month, with tens of thousands of reservists required to serve multiple tours and hundreds of soldiers killed, anger over special treatment for the ultra-Orthodox is growing.

“Today, in the midst of a difficult war, the burden of this inequality is more acute than ever — and a sustainable solution to this problem needs to be advanced,” the Supreme Court justices wrote in their ruling.

The court ruling pits secular Jews against the ultra-Orthodox, who say their study of the Bible is as important as the military’s defense of Israel. It also exposes divisions within Netanyahu’s coalition, which relies on the support of two ultra-Orthodox parties during Israel’s worst war in decades.

Netanyahu has called for legislation to generally preserve immunity for religious students, but if he moves forward with the plan, it could drive the rest of the government apart as public anger grows over the administration’s Gaza war strategy.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews exempt from military service Since the establishment of Israel in 1948The country’s leadership promised them autonomy in exchange for their support for a secular state. In addition to being exempt from military service, the ultra-Orthodox, known as Haredim in Hebrew, were allowed to run their own education system.

The Supreme Court also took aim at the system in its ruling, noting that the government could no longer transfer subsidies to religious schools or madrassas that enrolled students of conscription age whose exemptions were no longer legal.

The decision immediately drew the ire of ultra-Orthodox politicians, who vowed to oppose it.

“The State of Israel was established to be a homeland for the Jewish people, for whom the Torah is the cornerstone of their existence. The holy Torah will prevail,” ultra-Orthodox cleric Yitzhak Goldknopf said in a statement on Monday.

There are currently about 1,000 Haredi men who have volunteered to serve in the army – less than 1% of all soldiers – but the October 7 Hamas-led attack appears to have prompted Some Haredi people have a stronger sense of common destiny with mainstream Israelis. Military statistics show that more than 2,000 Haredim sought to join the army in the first 10 weeks of the war.

Gabrielle Sobelman and Myra Novick Contributed reporting.

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