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Israeli Court Invalidates a Military Exemption (NY) TIMES) By ETHAN BRONNER JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 02/23/12)Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/23/world/middleeast/israeli-court-invalidates-a-military-exemption.html NEW YORK TIMES NEW YORK TIMES Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
JERUSALEM — The Israeli Supreme Court has invalidated a law that exempted from military service ultra-Orthodox Jews engaged in religious studies, adding a new urgency to the government’s negotiations with religious parties over a more equitable distribution of the burdens of citizenship.

The 6-to-3 decision, handed down late Tuesday, declared the so-called Tal Law unconstitutional at a time of growing tension in Israel over the place of the ultra-Orthodox. The law, in effect since 2002, granted exemptions to tens of thousands of religious academy students. It was widely viewed as a failure, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had already said it would not be renewed when it expired this summer.

Still, the ruling will now force the government’s hand to come up with a new way forward, one that will be strongly resisted by religious party coalition members.

Departing Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch, writing for the court majority, said the law had failed to live up to its aim of increasing the number of ultra-Orthodox in the army. Using data presented by the army, the decision noted that last year fewer than 1,300 ultra- Orthodox youths enlisted out of a pool of 8,500, a rate of 15 percent. Among the rest of the Jewish population, the enlistment rate is 75 percent.

“Originally the legislation harbored the hope that the law would launch a social process that without coercion would encourage ultra- Orthodox people to serve in the military or take part in national civil service,” she wrote. “These hopes were dashed.”

The place of the ultra-Orthodox, also known as the Haredim — those who tremble before God — has long been controversial in Israel, but the issue has heated up in recent months. As a group, the Haredim do not accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state before the arrival of the Messiah and believe that the primary task of men should be studying Torah.

Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, offered what was then a tiny group of Haredim the chance to let its brightest sons do such study full time instead of serving in the army, partly because the group had been nearly destroyed by the Holocaust and partly because early Zionists believed the Haredim lifestyle would eventually disappear in the face of modernity.

Instead, the ultra-Orthodox have thrived, and their numbers have grown by leaps and bounds. Their leaders began joining the governing coalition in the 1970s, obtaining more aid for their schools and housing and more exemptions from military service for more of their sons. From the original number of 400 exemptions offered by Ben- Gurion, the current number is more than 70,000.

During the social protests last summer when hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets and accused the government of not sharing the country’s wealth properly, the subsidies offered to the ultra-Orthodox were often invoked, especially because so many do not serve in the army and do not work while typically having eight children per family.

Israeli Arabs, who make up 20 percent of the population, are also exempted from the military, although that, too, has come under increased scrutiny with growing calls for them to perform some form of national service.

On Wednesday, politicians across the political spectrum — except the ultra-Orthodox — praised the Supreme Court’s decision.

“After 10 years, the Tal Law has not met expectations at all,” said Defense Minister Ehud Barak, “and has not led to any change in terms of equal sharing of the burden and enlarging the circle of participants in civil duties.”

Tzipi Livni, head of the centrist Kadima Party and leader of the opposition, said: “Justice has been done. Social justice comes from equal sharing of the burden. Tomorrow, we will initiate a set of bills that require service of all — either military, national or civilian service.

She continued, “We will not permit the Zionist majority to become a minority that carries everyone else on its back.”

The leaders of religious parties were livid, although some acknowledged that accommodation would have to be found.

Yaakov Margi, the religious affairs minister from the Shas Party, said: “It’s clear that now the state will have to present a different and rational solution. All of us — the government, the security establishment and the leaders of the Haredi public — will have to sit at a round table and find a reasonable formula that will lead to equal sharing in the burden, and will still provide a solution for those whose Torah study is their vocation. Each of us will have to be flexible.” (Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company 02/23/12)


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