Ultra-Orthodox up in arms as Israel prepares to end army exemption

 

Jerusalem

The Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, has announced plans to draft thousands of Ultra-Orthodox students into the army – a move that could set him at loggerheads with the religious parties in the run-up to a general election in January.

Mr Barak is quarantined from the political battle ahead after quitting the Labour Party. His largely fictional Atzmaut faction is unlikely to attract any votes, and he will either join the Likud party or be nominated as Defence Minister irrespective of whether he enters parliament.

Last week, the army began sending out 15,000 call-up notices to Ultra-Orthodox teenagers who until now have been granted exemption from duty because they are studying in rabbinical seminaries – an arrangement that began in the early years of the state with a few hundred selected students but has now mushroomed to include some 55,000 young men.

The issue of Ultra-Orthodox army service was catapulted back on to the political agenda earlier this year after the High Court struck down the so-called Tal Law that allowed mass exemptions for seminary students, branding it illegal. The Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, lost Kadima from his coalition after failing to enact new legislation.

Mr Barak told a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee in Jerusalem this week that the army had made "massive preparations" to absorb thousands of new Ultra-Orthodox recruits. He said efforts would initially be directed at 16- to 19-year-olds receiving their first call-up notices, while leaving older students alone for now. "Because we're now in election season, and to facilitate dialogue, I have refrained from setting in stone [directives] regarding those in the interim age bracket," Mr Barak said.

In order to provide high standards of kosher food, Shabbat observance and gender separation, most Ultra-Orthodox soldiers serve in special units, including the Nachal Haredi, the Netzach Yehuda combat battalion and the Shachar hi-tech training unit.

Brigadier-General Gadi Agmon, of the IDF manpower division, said that the army planned to establish four new battalions for Ultra-Orthodox soldiers, including a so-called "hesder" track that combines seminary study with combat service and home-front units where recruits could serve as firefighters, police officers and medics.

Brig-Gen Agmon said "the entire class of 2013" would be processed, but there would be exceptions for star students – as in music, athletics and other fields – and for those deemed medically or psychologically unfit.

Ultra-Orthodox leaders said they would not allow the mass draft to go forward without a fight. Moshe Gafni, an MP from the United Torah Judaism Party, said the government's plan could not be imposed by force. "You don't know what planet you're living on," Mr Gafni told the Defence Minister, warning that any attempt to enforce the draft in the seminaries would spark riots.

Hiddush, an NGO that has campaigned for a fair draft, said Mr Barak's plan was doomed. "Unfortunately there is not the slightest chance that even one yeshiva student will be drafted."

Meanwhile, Mr Barak denied reports he had met secretly with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for peace talks in Jordan last Thursday. According to the Chinese news agency Xinhua, the two met King Abdullah to discuss Mr Barak's plan for a unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank.

The reports sparked furious reactions from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who berated the Palestinian President for reneging on his vow not to talk to Israeli leaders without a complete freeze on Israeli construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Sport
Mourinho lost his temper as well as the match
sportLiverpool handed title boost as Sunderland smash manager’s 77-game home league run
Voices
Sweet tweet: Victoria Beckham’s selfie, taken on her 40th birthday on Thursday
voices... and her career-long attack on the absurd criteria by which we define our 'betters', by Ellen E Jones
Sport
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
sport Hamilton captured his third straight Formula One race with ease on Sunday, leading from start to finish to win the Chinese Grand Prix

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Voices
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Life & Style
Lana Del Rey, Alexa Chung and Cara Delevingne each carry their signature bag
fashionMulberry's decision to go for the super-rich backfired dramatically
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit