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Israel's ultra-Orthodox could lose exemption from army service

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Mr. Gold and his classmates are among an estimated 62,000 religious Israeli young men who are exempted from the country's mandatory military service. But that status is now in question, as Israel's ultra-Orthodox population expands rapidly, making secularists more restive. A landmark decision by the Israeli supreme court decision last week could significantly curb draft exemptions, which began relatively modestly shortly after Israel's founding in 1948.

The decision last week does away with a framework that in practice allowed for extensive draft exemptions. But some are skeptical that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be willing to go against the wishes of his religious partners, preventing any drastic changes.

'People see them as parasites'

Originally intended as a means to cultivate successors to the European luminaries of Jewish learning who were killed during the Holocaust, the exemptions today have become a contentious issue. Secular Israelis across the political spectrum are increasingly bitter about ultra-Orthodox who do not share in the burden of the country's defense: three years of army service for men and then reserve duty until well into one's 40s.

''People go every year to the reserves and risk their lives, undermine their businesses and are away from their families while others are not working, have a lot of kids, and are a burden on social services,'' says Uri Dromi, former spokesman for Yitzhak Rabin, the slain prime minister. ''Of course people see them as parasites.''

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