Nine-justice High Court panel hears petitions calling for immediate Haredi draft

AG says government ‘violating express rules of the court’ in its treatment of new legal situation on ultra-Orthodox conscription; 3,000 could be called up to IDF by end of year

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Ultra-Orthodox men protest outside the army recruitment office in Jerusalem, March 4, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/ Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox men protest outside the army recruitment office in Jerusalem, March 4, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/ Flash90)

A nine-justice panel at the High Court of Justice began hearing petitions demanding immediate conscription of ultra-Orthodox men to the Israel Defense Forces on Sunday morning.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara came out in support of the petitions on Thursday, writing in the state’s response that the government was acting “without authority,” “violating express rules of the court,” and “undermining the rule of law” in the manner it is addressing the new legal situation regarding ultra-Orthodox Jews, also called Haredim, who are eligible for conscription.

The government has sought private representation in the High Court instead of that of the attorney general, since the latter opposes its position in which it seeks to continue funding ultra-Orthodox yeshivas and not enforcing military conscription on young Haredi men until it passes a new law allowing for ultra-Orthodox service exemptions.

In late March, the court issued an interim order barring the government from providing funds to Haredi yeshivas for students eligible for IDF enlistment as the legal framework for deferring their military service had expired.

In April the government passed cabinet resolution 1724, which unilaterally overturned Baharav-Miara’s determination that only the government, and not the Defense Ministry and the IDF, could have private legal counsel for the High Court petitions.

“Under the guise of a dispute apparently concerning the scope of separate [legal] representation allowed, the government sought to create an unprecedented situation in which it determines for itself the interpretation of the law, contrary to the binding opinion of the attorney general,” she wrote.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara addresses the Israel Bar Association’s annual conference in Eilat, May 27, 2024. (Courtesy Israel Bar Association)

In short, Baharav-Miara explained, despite the fact that she had determined that failing to draft ultra-Orthodox men into the army in the current legal circumstances was illegal, and the fact that the court had not ruled otherwise, the government wanted to bring about a situation in which the attorney general’s position was not binding on the Defense Ministry and the IDF, despite this being the legal reality in Israel for decades.

“The government – through a private attorney that it had hired – [would be the one] to determine the interpretation of the law for itself and for state institutions, that they [the institutions] would receive legal instructions from that private attorney,” Baharav-Miara wrote.

Channel 13 reported on Saturday that if the High Court accepts the petitions on Sunday, some 3,000 Haredi men could be drafted immediately, while Haaretz reported that amount of conscriptions would come into affect by the end of the year.

Most Jewish Israeli men are required to serve nearly three years followed by years of annual reserve duty, while many Israeli women serve two years. Arab Israelis are not required to serve, though some volunteer.

But the politically powerful ultra-Orthodox, who make up roughly 13 percent of Israeli society, have since the foundation of the state received exemptions if they are studying full-time in a yeshiva, or religious seminary.

The exemptions — and the government stipends many yeshiva students receive through age 26 — have infuriated the wider general public.

A billboard encouraging Haredi enlistment to the IDF is hung by workers in Jerusalem, May 26, 2024 (Noam Revkin Fenton/FLASH90)

That frustration peaked in the wake of Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught – which saw nearly 1,200 people killed and 252 kidnapped – and amid the war that ensued, with the military death toll mounting, soldiers being asked to serve longer due to a manpower shortage, and with the threats facing Israel growing.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition includes two ultra-Orthodox parties that regard the exemptions as key to keeping their constituents in religious seminaries and away from a melting-pot military that might test their conservative customs.

The ultra-Orthodox are expected to total 19 percent of Israel’s population by 2035 due to their high birth rates. Economists argue that the conscription waiver keeps some of the community unnecessarily out of the workforce, spelling a growing burden for middle-class taxpayers.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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