It’s too little, too late to draft haredim into the IDF – comment

The High Court of Justice’s ruling on Tuesday stated the obvious: that the government of Israel must abide by the existing National Service Law, which states that every 18-year-old Israeli must report for military service.

The real question was how far the court would go, and which tools it would use, to ensure that the government indeed adheres to the law. Attorneys during the June 2 hearing pleaded that the High Court hand down a historic ruling that will change reality and solve the issue once and for all, after 25 years of limbo.

They gave as an example the ruling that enabled Alice Miller in 1996 to apply for the Israeli Air Force‘s prestigious Pilot’s Course, paving the way for further integration of women into the IDF. The attorneys argued that a similar ruling this time could break down the door and become a defining moment in the integration of haredim into the army and into Israeli society at large. The time for such a ruling was ripe, the attorneys argued.

But the court did not deliver, and refrained from taking steps to ensure that the law would be followed in full. It did not go into the numbers of draftees; did not set guidelines as to what percentage of haredim would need to enlist in order to meet the constitutional requirement for equality; and did not outline how the attorney general or other gatekeepers should enforce the ruling.

Perhaps wisely so. The court wields neither purse nor sword, and has no real way of enforcing the law if the government ignores its ruling. But, after 25 years, the path is still open for the situation to remain pretty much the same.

AN ILLUSTRATION OF a haredi man and an IDF soldier standing side by side, united, as is the army standing behind them, under a colorful blue and white Israeli flag (credit: Dall-E)

Government cannot ignore ruling

The government cannot afford to completely ignore the ruling and refrain from drafting any haredim. But what it can do – and what in fact the prime minister insinuated this week in a Channel 14 interview, and the Likud once again insinuated in its response to the ruling – is pass a new law that will be palatable enough for the haredim in order not to bring down the government, but insufficient in solving the fundamental inequality between non-haredi and haredi Jewish Israelis, which has grown during the ongoing war.

The bill will thus likely be challenged in the High Court yet again. It will likely be ruled unconstitutional and struck down once again. And, in a few months or years, we will find ourselves back at square one.

This already happened not once, but twice, since the blanket haredi exemption was ruled unconstitutional in 1998. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that it will not repeat itself a third time, and in the meantime haredi IDF service will remain insufficient. The High Court did not address this, and took no steps in its ruling to prevent it.

Perhaps Israelis will be positively surprised. Perhaps Defense Minister Yoav Gallant will withstand pressure and direct the IDF to begin drafting haredim en masse. Perhaps the FADC under the leadership of the Likud’s Yuli Edelstein will come up with a bill that will lead to real change. Perhaps the current security situation, coupled with the High Court ruling, will lead more haredim to join the IDF of their own accord.

But the ruling did not, and perhaps could not, guarantee any of this. Essentially, Israelis must now trust that the government, which depends on the haredi parties for its existence, begin to do what haredim view as a grave social threat. Israeli governments have refrained from doing so for 25 years, and doesn’t seem to be intent on doing so now.