The original amendment to the Conscription Law, which was spearheaded by Yesh Atid Leader Yair Lapid when his party was part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s previous coalition, constituted a major breakthrough in bringing Haredim into the military by setting an annual quota for Haredi conscripts, setting in motion a remedy to an issue that has long been a point of contention in Israel.
With Lapid's amendment, Haredi men of military age were permitted to delay their service on the proviso that the annual quota of ultra-Orthodox conscripts was met.
However, with the formulation of Netanyahu’s new right-wing coalition in 2015 largely dependent on ultra-Orthodox parties, which also saw the removal of Lapid’s party, an adjustment was immediately made to the law, reducing the quota of Haredi conscripts.
With the court’s ruling that the adjustment was unconstitutional however, which gained the backing of 8 out of 9 judges, the government will now be required to increase the quota of Haredi conscripts within one year.
According to the judges, the cap imposed following the Knesset’s ratification “harmed equality.”
Eight of the judges also added that the law was “disproportionate” while the sole dissenting judge, Noam Solberg, advocated rejecting the petitions seeking a revision to the adjustment, reasoning that the time had not yet come to determine whether it was unconstitutional.
“We are compelled to return the matter back to the Knesset,” concluded Supreme Court Chief Justice Miriam Naor. “At this stage, and after years of trial and error, it is clear that it is no longer enough to make do with non-binding and non-enforceable arrangements whose outcome is unknown."
Following the ruling, heads of the Haredi sect issued a scathing statement, blasting the HCJ for its landslide ruling. “The detached HCJ hates Torah scholars. Enough is enough.”
Shas chairman and Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri joined the criticism leveled at the court, saying its ruling "once again proves the extreme disconnect between the court and the Jewish people, who have known for generations what sustained them against persecution were those studying the Torah."
Yeshiva students would "continue their studies even after this ruling, and thereby defend the people of Israel," Deri added. "We'll do everything in our power to amend the law in a manner enabling the continuation of the current arrangement,"
Chairman of the finance committee MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) also chided the court for its decision.
"Throughout the history of the Jewish people many tried preventing yeshiva students from studying, both within and without the Jewish people. Some used force, others different methods. Neither has ever been able to halt the study of the Torah, nor will they," he said.
Promising to defy the High Court, Gafni added: "Those studying Torah will continue their studies, with or without the High Court. I categorically reject the court's ruling and we'll rectify this situation in the coming year and there's nothing they can do about it, as the judges don't have any idea what studying the Torah means or that our entire existence is predicated on them continuing to do so, as is the entire world's."
For his part, Lapid welcomed the court's first steps in reinstituting the main pillar of his initiative which was so swiftly crumbled upon his departure from the government.
"The High Court has seen justice done today. Values have won, the spirit of the has IDF won and our soldiers won," he rejoiced. "Today we started steering our ship towards sanity and values."
Lapid also criticized Netanyahu’s government for permitting the dismantling of the amendment.
"Netanyahu cannot continue to squirm and dodge for much longer. IDF conscription is for everyone, not just suckers who don't happen to have a party in the coalition," he said, before dishing out his criticism to other political opponents.
“I was in the Knesset when (the new coalition—ed.) canceled the equal shouldering of the burden of military service. You know what the most striking thing was? It was the same people: Netanyahu, Ayelet Shaked, Bennett.
“Those same people who passed the law with us were the ones who canceled it. Netanyahu gave a speech at the time about how important it was. Shaked headed the “Shaked Committee” that passed the framework in the Knesset. Naftali Bennett recounted memories from his military service,” Lapid continued.
“Then the government changed and they went and voted for precisely the opposite thing. When they are asked why, they say 'Lapid forced us and now Litzman has forced us.’ Do they have no shame? On a matter like this? These are our children. This is our army. What Netanyahu did was not only a betrayal of Zionist and IDF values, but it was also a betrayal of the nationalist camp’s values.”
Yael Freidson, Telem Yahav an Kobi Nachshoni contributed to thtis report.