Gaza war presents ‘great opportunity for change’ regarding ultra-Orthodox service in IDF

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, Jerusalem, January 29, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, Jerusalem, January 29, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The ongoing war in Gaza presents “great opportunity for change” regarding ultra-Orthodox service in the IDF, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich declares in response to strong opposition to the Haredi community’s continued exemption from mandatory enlistment.

Addressing reporters ahead of his Religious Zionism party’s weekly faction meeting in the Knesset, Smotrich holds up the national-religious community as an example of one that combines Torah study and military service and said that Israel “needs a change in this matter so that everybody will be partners.”

“We would very much like all parts of Israeli society to serve,” he declares, adding that “there are growing sections of ultra-Orthodox society” that wish to contribute to the security of the State of Israel.

Such a change would have to come from working “hand in hand” with the ultra-Orthodox rather than through imposing a change from the outside, he contends, adding that “it’s possible to do more and we will do more.”

An IDF proposal to increase the amount of time conscripts and reservists serve in the military as it prepares for a long war in the Gaza Strip generated fierce backlash among lawmakers from across the political spectrum last week, with many renewing calls to end the de facto exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox community in order to make up manpower shortages.

The plan was unveiled less than a year after the government decided not to enlist yeshiva students — despite the expiration of the current exemption framework.

Smotrich also slams Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to send negotiators — including Mossad spy agency chief David Barnea and Shin Bet security agency chief Ronen Bar — to Cairo to discuss a hostage release deal with senior US, Egyptian, and Qatari officials.

Instead of being sent to Egypt, Bar should “be sent to Rafah together with his men and the IDF soldiers to destroy, kill and annihilate the heads of the murderers and all the Nazi Hamas terrorists,” Smotrich says in a message addressed to the prime minister.

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