On the conscription of the Orthodox Jews

Adam Smith, ISL – RCIT section in Israel/Occupied Palestine, 23.03.2024

The Supreme Court has ruled that if the government will not present a plan to pass a new conscription law by 24.03, the current one regarding the deferment of the drafting of the orthodox Jews in Israel will be canceled and the orthodox Jews will be forced to join the army. This is after the Supreme Court has given a deadline of June 2023, after more than 6 years of extensions. Once that deadline has passed, the government has decided to give itself an extension until the end of March. [1]

This issue has a long history. Ben Gurion first exempted 400 Torah students to revive the Orthodox World. Ben Gurion – and Zionism for that matter – despite being supposedly secular, politically has always supported and needed religious elements.

The link between Zionism and traditional religious Judaism is clear – both are reactionary isolationist ideologies that believe in Jewish supremacy. Many of the racist practices of Zionism stem from the Talmud, such as a ban on selling land in Israel to non-Jews. Also, religion provides an excuse so that the Zionists believe they are not settlers. For example, Moshe Feiglin even said that without the religious link, he would consider himself a settler.

After Begin and the Heirut/Likud came to power, the number of exempted religious students drastically increased.

In December of 1998, the Supreme Court ruled that the postponement was discriminatory – as a result, the Tal Law was implemented, including a giving period of choice between army and work. It was struck down in February 2012. In its place, a different law, legislated in March of 2014, stipulated higher quotas that must go to the army and criminal sanctions – however, it was a ruse as the criminal sanctions were withdrawn in November 2015 and it was decided to only start enforcing it 6 years later. However, in that time period in 2013, when the Orthodox parties were not in power, the opposition to the draft led to a left-wing movement in the Orthodox camp, including calls for a boycott of settlements and draft dodging. [2] [3]

In December of 2017, this was ruled illegal, again, and a new law has been in making, however, each time an extension has been given, around 8 times for a total of about 6 years(because of elections, as well as the court’s hesitancy). After that, the government gave itself an extension, without the court’s approval, and after that ran out, we reached the situation we have today. It is clear the courts are not willing to take a strong position on this issue, as they cannot make a discriminatory exemption and yet the army and the government(and by extension, the courts), are not enthusiastic about the service of the orthodox en-masse.

There are Orthodox Jews who decide to join the army, but they are very few and are from the periphery of the Orthodox world. In fact, most of the soldiers in the “orthodox” battalions(Netzah Yehuda-a particularly notorious West Bank unit for example) are in fact national-religious and prefer a more religious environment.

Until they receive an exemption or are conscripted, Yeshiva students must remain in the Yeshiva and cannot legally work, a practice that drives them to work in relatively precarious positions.

It is clear that the orthodox outlook is reactionary, and that there is a process of integration into the wider Israeli society – in the army, settlements, government, etc. However, so far the orthodox, even if they accept the Zionist ideals, by and large, are still not willing to go to the army for their own reasons(mainly fear of becoming secular), as opposed to other Zionists, which means that there is a possibility of a left-wing split. The Jerusalemite Section has told the court that it is willing to give up funding to not serve in the army.

It is also clear that the army needs more soldiers to fill the ranks, as the conscription rate among the secular and national-religious is already very high(as well as Israelis that moved abroad), and that after October 7th there is greater pressure on the Orthodox Jews to enlist. Therefore, we support the protests of the Orthodox Jews against conscription to the Zionist army, despite all the flaws of their reactionary (and even Zionist in many ways) ideology, because we do not want to strengthen the Zionist army, and the complex reality is that we need to support any cracks in the Zionist apparatus, however small.

For Palestine red and free!

Down with the government’s/Supreme Court’s conscription attempts!


[1] https://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-5515701,00.html\

[2] https://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%94%D7%A4%D7%92%D7%A0%D7%AA_%D7%94%D7%97%D7%A8%D7%93%D7%99%D7%9D_%D7%A0%D7%92%D7%93_%D7%92%D7%99%D7%95%D7%A1_%D7%91%D7%A0%D7%99_%D7%99%D7%A9%D7%99%D7%91%D7%95%D7%AA_(2014)

[3] https://the-isleague.com/haredim-3-201/

[4] https://www.globes.co.il/news/article.aspx?did=1001472130

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