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Israel's courts say the military must enlist the ultra-Orthodox. What could that mean for Netanyahu?

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Israel's courts say the military must enlist the ultra-Orthodox. What could that mean for Netanyahu?
News

News

Israel's courts say the military must enlist the ultra-Orthodox. What could that mean for Netanyahu?

2024-06-26 05:53 Last Updated At:06:00

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Supreme Court unanimously ordered the government to begin drafting ultra-Orthodox Jewish men into the army — a landmark ruling seeking to end a system that has allowed them to avoid enlistment into compulsory military service.

Roughly 1.3 million ultra-Orthodox Jews make up about 13% of Israel's population and oppose enlistment because they believe that studying full time in religious seminaries is their most important duty.

An enlistment exemption for the ultra-Orthodox goes back to the founding of Israel in 1948, when small numbers of gifted scholars were exempt from the draft. But with a push from politically powerful religious parties, those numbers have swelled over the decades. The court said the exemptions were illegal in 2017, but repeated extensions and government delay tactics have prevented a replacement law from being passed.

Two parties belonging to the Haredim, or “god-fearing” in Hebrew, are essential parts of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fragile coalition, but the broad exemptions from mandatory military service have reopened a deep divide in the country and infuriated much of the general public during the war in Gaza. Over 600 soldiers have been killed since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack. Many reserve soldiers are starting their second tour of duty.

Netanyahu’s coalition holds a slim majority of 64 seats in the 120-member parliament, often requiring him to capitulate to the demands of smaller parties like the ultra-Orthodox.

If those parties leave the government, the country would likely be forced into new elections this fall. Netanyahu's popularity is low as the war in Gaza drags into its ninth month.

Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf heads one of the ultra-Orthodox parties in Netanyahu's coalition. In a post on X, Goldknopf called the Supreme Court's ruling “very unfortunate and disappointing,” but did not say whether his party would leave the government. The chairman of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Aryeh Deri, denounced the ruling and said religious study was “our secret weapon against all enemies.”

The court this year temporarily froze state subsidies for seminaries where exempted ultra-Orthodox men study. Along with the enlistment decision, the court also ruled Tuesday that that money should be permanently suspended.

Many religious seminaries depend on government funding and “the general assumption is that the government will not survive this crisis,” said Barak Medina, a law professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and an expert on constitutional law.

Military service is compulsory for most Jewish men and women, who serve three and two years, respectively, in active duty, as well as reserve duty until around age 40.

The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that compulsory military service applies to the ultra-Orthodox just like any other Israeli. The judges said that allowing a certain community a “sweeping avoidance” of service amounted to discrimination.

“Discrimination regarding the most precious thing of all – life itself – is the worst kind,” the justices wrote in their opinion.

In 2017, the Supreme Court struck down a law that codified draft exemptions. Repeated extensions of the law and government tactics to delay a replacement law have dragged on for years.

Israel’s judiciary plays a large role in checking the government’s executive power. Netanyahu attempted to overhaul the judiciary last year, spurring massive protests across the country before a major part of the overhaul was struck down.

It will be challenging for the army integrate a larger number of ultra-Orthodox deeply opposed to service into its ranks.

Among Israel’s Jewish majority, mandatory military service is largely seen as a melting pot and a rite of passage. The ultra-Orthodox say that integrating into the army will threaten their generations-old way of life, and that their devout lifestyle and dedication to upholding the Jewish commandments protect Israel as much as a strong army does.

The courts did not set numbers for enlistment in their ruling, but Israel’s attorney general’s office suggested that at least 3,000 ultra-Orthodox soldiers enlist in the coming year. The court said in its ruling that some 63,000 ultra-Orthodox students are eligible for enlistment.

For decades, the army has attempted to accommodate ultra-Orthodox soldiers by creating separate units that allow them to maintain religious practices, including minimizing interaction with women. One of the units created for this purpose, Netzah Yehudah, faced possible U.S. sanctions over their treatment of Palestinians, though the U.S. eventually decided not to impose sanctions.

The ruling will have little immediate effect on the war in Gaza, where more than 37,600 Palestinians have been killed, according to the territory’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count. The number of ultra-Orthodox who might enlist because of the ruling is too small to have a significant impact on day-to-day fighting.

Medina, the law professor, said that if the ruling topples the government, it could give Netanyahu more leeway to reach a deal for a ceasefire that could end the war in Gaza.

“Currently, one of the main reasons he’s prevented from reaching an agreement for the end of the war is because it will mean the end of his coalition,” said Medina.

If the ultra-Orthodox parties leave the coalition, Netanyahu has “nothing to lose,” he said. And that could lead to a change in policy without the pressure from far-right ministers opposed to any kind of ceasefire. Netanyahu will also be under a lot of pressure to wrap up fighting if early elections are called, to avoid going into the elections without the hostages and while a war is still ongoing, Medina said.

FILE - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference in the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Oct. 28, 2023. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet on Sunday that there had been a “dramatic drop” in U.S. weapons deliveries for Israel's war effort in Gaza, doubling down on a claim that the Biden administration has denied and underscoring the growing strains between the two allies. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP, File)

FILE - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference in the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Oct. 28, 2023. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet on Sunday that there had been a “dramatic drop” in U.S. weapons deliveries for Israel's war effort in Gaza, doubling down on a claim that the Biden administration has denied and underscoring the growing strains between the two allies. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Israel's courts say the military must enlist the ultra-Orthodox. What could that mean for Netanyahu?

Israel's courts say the military must enlist the ultra-Orthodox. What could that mean for Netanyahu?

Israel's courts say the military must enlist the ultra-Orthodox. What could that mean for Netanyahu?

Israel's courts say the military must enlist the ultra-Orthodox. What could that mean for Netanyahu?

FILE - Israeli police officers remove an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man from the street during a protest against army recruitment in Jerusalem on June 2, 2024. Israel’s Supreme Court on Tuesday, June 25, ruled unanimously that the military must begin drafting ultra-Orthodox men for military service, a decision that could lead to the collapse of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition as Israel continues to wage war in Gaza. (AP Photo/Leo Correa, File)

FILE - Israeli police officers remove an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man from the street during a protest against army recruitment in Jerusalem on June 2, 2024. Israel’s Supreme Court on Tuesday, June 25, ruled unanimously that the military must begin drafting ultra-Orthodox men for military service, a decision that could lead to the collapse of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition as Israel continues to wage war in Gaza. (AP Photo/Leo Correa, File)

SAN DIEGO (AP) — All-Star Marcell Ozuna warmed up for the Home Run Derby with blasts of 413 and 422 feet, and Orlando Arcia had a two-run shot for the Atlanta Braves, who beat the San Diego Padres 6-1 on Friday night for their fifth win in seven games.

Ozuna left no doubt with his powerful shots. He led off the fifth with a 413-foot homer to left off knuckleballer Matt Waldron (5-8) that tied the score at 1 and then led off the ninth with a 422-footer to center off Enyel De Los Santos.

Ozuna has 26 homers this season. He was named an All-Star reserve and will participate in the Home Run Derby on Monday night.

Ozuna, who hit a career-high 40 homers last year, went deep in both games of a doubleheader against the Padres in Atlanta on May 20.

The Padres lost their fifth straight game and dropped to one game above .500.

After Ozuna's homer in the fifth, Adam Duvall doubled, advanced on Eddie Rosario's sacrifice bunt and scored on Travis d'Arnaud's single to right. Arcia followed with a 401-foot homer to left-center, his seventh, as Ozuna gestured in approval from the dugout.

The Padres had taken a 1-0 lead against rookie Spencer Schwellenbach (3-4) when Jake Cronenworth and Manny Machado hit consecutive doubles opening the fourth.

Schwellenbach made his big league debut on May 29, two days before he turned 24.

Making his eighth start, he held the Padres to one run and three hits in seven innings, with three strikeouts and one walk.

Waldron allowed four runs and six hits in seven innings.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Padres: Activated 2B Xander Bogaerts from the disabled list. Optioned C Brett Sullivan to Triple-A El Paso. Recalled RHP Sean Reynolds from El Paso. Placed LHP Wandy Peralta on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to Wednesday, with a left adductor strain.

UP NEXT

Braves RHP Reynaldo López (7-2, 1.71 ERA) and Padres RHP Dylan Cease (7-8, 4.21) are scheduled to start Saturday night.

AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB

San Diego Padres' Manny Machado watches his RBI double during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, Friday, July 12, 2024, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

San Diego Padres' Manny Machado watches his RBI double during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, Friday, July 12, 2024, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Atlanta Braves' Orlando Arcia, right, celebrates with teammate Travis d'Arnaud after hitting a two-run home run during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Friday, July 12, 2024, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Atlanta Braves' Orlando Arcia, right, celebrates with teammate Travis d'Arnaud after hitting a two-run home run during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Friday, July 12, 2024, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Atlanta Braves' Orlando Arcia celebrates after hitting a two-run home run during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Friday, July 12, 2024, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Atlanta Braves' Orlando Arcia celebrates after hitting a two-run home run during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Friday, July 12, 2024, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Atlanta Braves' Orlando Arcia rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Friday, July 12, 2024, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Atlanta Braves' Orlando Arcia rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Friday, July 12, 2024, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

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