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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence