landmark ruling

Israel’s High Court rules that Haredim can no longer be exempt from the army 

State funding for yeshivot that do not comply will be frozen

Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu via Getty Images

Israeli forces intervene as Haredim stage a demonstration on tramline to protest the mandatory armed service in Jerusalem on May 23, 2024.

The Israeli High Court of Justice ruled unanimously on Tuesday that Haredim are no longer eligible for blanket exemptions from army service, a landmark decision that could have implications for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

The panel of nine judges ruled that the government has no legal basis for distinguishing between yeshiva students and other Israelis who are eligible for IDF service, and authorized the  freezing of funds to yeshivot that do not comply with its ruling. 

The court ruled that the government’s position in granting exemptions to yeshiva students has been made more problematic “in view of the ongoing war against terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip and on the northern front, for a period of more than eight months.” 

It emphasized that “the current position of the security establishment is that there is a concrete and urgent need for additional personnel,” and the court “made it clear that in the midst of a difficult war, the burden of inequality is more acute than ever – and requires the advancement of a sustainable solution to this issue.”

But it is unclear the extent to which the ruling might destabilize Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

In the past, Supreme Court rulings on Haredi enlistment ordered governments to pass laws that would treat Haredim equally, and disputes over that legislation have sparked elections — postponing the deadline to pass such laws again and again.

This time, the ruling is meant to have an immediate effect, slashing funding for yeshivot and having the IDF send conscription notices to thousands of military-eligible Haredi men, regardless of what the Knesset does. An election would not push off the impact of the ruling, and could end up with the Haredim in the opposition, where they would be unable to try to find a solution that fits the court’s orders, which are much more specific than they have been in the past.

Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Yuli Edelstein, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, quoted from the section of the ruling that said that inequality in conscription is worse than ever due to the demands of the war, and added, “therefore the discussions on the enlistment bill will continue.”

President of the Israel Democracy Institute Yohanan Plesner described the decision as a “game-changer.” 

“In a landmark ruling Israel’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously that in the absence of legislation to the contrary, the government must proceed with drafting eligible Haredi men and cease funding yeshivas that enroll students eligible for the draft. This is common-sense. It is now incumbent upon the government and the IDF to implement this ruling promptly and scrupulously,” Plesner said in a statement.

“With our country facing unprecedented security and economic challenges, and the IDF in grave need of additional manpower, now is not the time for our leaders to play politics,” Plesner added. ”Indeed, the government would do well to follow-up on this ruling by amending the ‘Security Service Law’ so that henceforth the obligation to serve is applied equally to all Israelis — with narrow and specific exceptions. Any new law legislation must include the principle of mandatory service for all Israelis, and must be enforceable via individual economic penalties for those who refuse to serve and budgetary cuts for religious institutions whose students avoid enlistment.”

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