High court halts yeshiva funding for draft-evaders

Haredi MKs outraged by decision, which pressures government to come up with formula for enlisting ultra-Orthodox

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Illustrative photo of a Haredi yeshiva, August 29, 2013 (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a Haredi yeshiva, August 29, 2013 (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice ruled on Tuesday that state funding to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas is to be slashed for those students, between the ages of 18 and 20, who have received draft summonses since last summer but failed to appear at a military induction center.

The ruling targets the government’s continued issuance of blanket deferments for ultra-Orthodox males, and puts pressure on it to resolve the issue after it failed to meet several deadlines to do so.

Nine justices formed a special panel to deliberate the appeal and ultimately voted to cut funding until a universal draft law was instituted. In the final tally, eight supported the decision, and one opposed it.

The appeal was lodged by the Hiddush organization; Be Free Israel; Forum for Citizen Equal Rights and Obligations; former MK Roni Brizon; the Hitorerut movement; and an attorney, Yehuda Ressler

The decision applies to “students of Torah institutions born in 1994, 1995, and the first half of 1996, who received draft notices for various dates after August 2013 and did not report due to the general decisions of the defense minister.”

Ultra-Orthodox Israeli men were mostly exempt from army or national service until July 2012, when the Tal Law, under which the exemptions were granted, was declared unconstitutional. The dissolution of the law has forced parliamentarians to draw up new legislation that would conscript Haredi and Israeli-Arab men into the military.

A bill to increase enlistment passed its first reading last July. However, the Knesset committee responsible for drafting a universal law, headed by MK Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home), has yet to present a revised bill for a second vote.

Haredi MKs responded angrily to the High Court order and vowed to do their utmost to overturn the decision.

“The cessation of funding to yeshivas is a severe escalation and a declaration of war against the Haredi public in Israel and in the world, and with the help of God we will respond to this war,” United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni said.

“As Israeli citizens, we are entitled to a budget,” he added.

A statement from the Shas party also decried the ruling, which it termed an “offensive and unnecessary decision that contributes to the deepening divide and rift in Israeli society, and to the Haredi public’s feeling that they are under attack by the media, legislators, and judiciary.”

Housing Minister Uri Ariel of the right-wing Jewish Home party also weighed in and called the move “inappropriate.”

The High Court should have waited for a universal draft law to pass before making decisions that damage the “delicate fabric between the various communities in Israel,” Ariel said.

Other members of Knesset, including Rabbi Dov Lipman of Yesh Atid, applauded the High Court order and expressed hope that the move would accelerate stalled efforts to formulate a final law.

“Maintaining the status quo is impossible, and there is pressing need to promote legislation in the Knesset for an agreement on enlistment of Haredim to the IDF,” Lipman said in a statement.

Notice to halt payment was sent to the education ministry and finance ministry. Finance Minister Yair Lapid approved the decision and said he would freeze the funds as ordered.

“The High Court justices sent a strong message to the Netanyahu and Lapid government, which has not as of yet done anything substantial on the subject of the draft — the time has come for you to start working,” a statement from the Forum for Citizen Equal Rights and Obligations said in response to the verdict.

Ultra-Orthodox rabbis and other community leaders have been pushing back hard against enlistment in the army, which they fear will make it harder for their followers to keep a strict interpretation of Jewish law and will cause spiritually perilous mixing with the secular population.

In December, a 19-year-old yeshiva student was arrested and subsequently sent to 14 days in prison for failing to respond to a draft summons, sparking an outcry and demonstrations among the ultra-Orthodox.

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