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Middle East

Mass protests erupt as ultra-Orthodox Israeli men oppose military draft mandate

Image Credits: UnsplashImage Credits: Unsplash
  • The Supreme Court's ruling mandates the enlistment of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men in the Israeli military, ending a long-standing exemption.
  • The decision has sparked violent protests in Jerusalem and threatens to destabilize Prime Minister Netanyahu's coalition government.
  • The broader Israeli public supports the ruling, viewing it as a step towards equality, while the ultra-Orthodox community remains strongly opposed.

In a dramatic turn of events, thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men flooded the streets of Jerusalem to protest a recent Supreme Court ruling that mandates their enlistment in the Israeli military. This landmark decision has sparked widespread unrest and poses a significant threat to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's fragile coalition government, which is already grappling with the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

Since the founding of Israel in 1948, ultra-Orthodox Jewish men have been largely exempt from mandatory military service, a privilege granted to allow them to focus on religious studies. This exemption has been a point of contention within Israeli society, particularly among those who serve in the military and view the exemption as unfair. The Supreme Court's ruling aims to end this long-standing practice, citing the need for equality and fairness in compulsory service.

The Protests

The protests began in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea She'arim and quickly escalated as demonstrators moved towards central Jerusalem. The situation turned violent as night fell, with protesters hurling rocks and targeting the car of an ultra-Orthodox Cabinet minister. Israeli police responded with water cannons and mounted units to disperse the crowd.

One protester was quoted saying, "We would rather go to jail than join the Israeli Army," reflecting the deep-seated opposition within the ultra-Orthodox community to mandatory military service.

Political Implications

The ultra-Orthodox parties are a crucial part of Netanyahu's coalition government. Their potential withdrawal over this issue could trigger early elections, further destabilizing an already fragile political landscape. The ultra-Orthodox community, which makes up about 13% of Israel's population, holds significant political sway due to the country's fragmented political system.

Public Sentiment

The broader Israeli public has shown increasing resentment towards the exemptions granted to the ultra-Orthodox community, especially during the ongoing conflict with Hamas in Gaza. Over 600 soldiers have been killed since the conflict began, and many reservists have had their lives upended. The public's frustration is palpable, with many viewing the Supreme Court's ruling as a necessary step towards equality.

The Future of Military Conscription

The Israeli military faces a significant challenge in integrating a large number of ultra-Orthodox men who are deeply opposed to service. Special units have been created to accommodate religious practices, but the resistance remains strong. The Supreme Court did not set specific numbers for enlistment, but the attorney general's office suggested that at least 3,000 ultra-Orthodox men should be drafted in the coming year.

The Supreme Court's ruling on military conscription for ultra-Orthodox men has ignited a firestorm of protests and political uncertainty in Israel. As the conflict in Gaza continues, the Israeli government must navigate this complex issue carefully to maintain stability and address the deep divisions within its society.

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