Attrition: Israel Fights For The Fanatic Fifth

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July 31, 2013: The Israeli government has approved a new law that eliminates the exemption from ultra-orthodox (Haredi) Jews. The new law still has to survive several votes in parliament before it becomes law and forces all Haredi men to serve in the military or perform equivalent civilian service. Radical Haredi are already organizing demonstrations against the proposed law and promise a more violent reaction if the law passes, as well as many Haredi conscripts refusing to serve.

In February 2012 the supreme court ruled that the draft exemption for all Haredi men was illegal and since then the military has sent draft notices to over 5,000 Haredi men. But political efforts by Haredi politicians has delayed the actual induction of these conscripts. These delaying tactics are expected to have run their course by the end of the year, but the Haredi leaders expect to get some Haredi conscripts deferments until they are 21. That may end up in the courts as well. Meanwhile, more Haredi men are volunteering, as many have done all along.

For over a year now some ultra-orthodox religious leaders have been calling on draft age men among their followers to resist new rules that make ultra-orthodox men eligible for conscription. These Haredi now comprise about 14 percent of the population and nearly a fifth of potential conscripts. Haredi are the fastest growing portion of the population (followed by Arab Israelis). The Haredi are very poor (most men spend the bulk of their time in religious studies) but increasingly violent when it comes to imposing their customs (no traffic on the Sabbath, no advertising of women, or women and men together on the same bus or public event) on non-Haredi Israelis. Street demonstrations are increasingly common, as is physical violence (stabbings and shootings). The Haredi believe their religious laws trump secular ones, and this increasingly brings them into violent conflict with the police and their secular neighbors. For over half a century most Haredi men did not serve in the military, and some Haredi sects believe that Israel should not exist. Growing anger from the Israelis who do serve in the military led to new laws reducing Haredi exemptions from conscription.

Despite the current law, many Haredi men have volunteered for service and showed they can do the job. Increasingly these volunteers are being condemned by radical Haredi as traitors and this sometimes leads to social pressure and even physical violence against volunteers currently in the military. Haredi leaders openly condemn this sort of pressure, although privately many Haredi approve of it. 

 


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