Most of the reactions and coverage of the High Court of Justice’s ruling on Tuesday on withholding stipends for some haredi (ultra-Orthodox) draft-dodgers completely misunderstand the ruling.
Of the haredim who could be drafted, who number as many as 50,000, only around 3,000 are impacted, and only by a reduction of around $70 a month. This is only in effect until March 31 or whenever the Knesset passes a new law restoring the funding. And no ruling at all was made on the core issue of haredi service in the IDF.
More than anything else, the ruling was a shot across the bow of the Knesset, with a warning of what could be in store if there is no new law after March 31.
It is true that there is a vibrant debate in Israel about how activist the court should be and how much it should defer on major issues to the Knesset.
But that was not what was at stake on Tuesday.
The Tal Law, which was the only legal basis for deferring or providing exemptions for IDF and national service for the haredi public, expired on August 1, 2012.
According to the law for the past year and a half, all the tens of thousands of draftable haredim should have been drafted and stipends to all those continuing to dodge the draft should have been cut off.
But from the court’s perspective, the state waited and waited and waited some more, and the court patiently warned that the current limbo state of affairs was legally unsustainable.
And this is not the court of proud judicial activist Aharon Barak, but the court of Asher D. Grunis, who proudly keeps the court out of as many issues as possible and openly expresses annoyance or even distaste with many NGOs who bring him issues that are also before the Knesset.
All kinds of procedural hurdles were exploited to delay the issue and to give the Knesset time to negotiate a new law.
By August 2013, Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein started to demand the Knesset meet during a recess and work at hyper-speed to submit a new law at the start of the fall, angering Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.
When on January 14, 2014, the state said it could not even give a foreseeable specific deadline on the Knesset’s resolution of the issue, even this conservative court lost patience, much the same way it did in the Migron case, where it accused the state of foot-dragging.
But Grunis still desperately wants not to decide the core issue at stake.
So this was his final attention-getting warning to the Knesset to resolve the issue before March 31 to save him from intervening.
If the Knesset cannot resolve the issue by then, he has warned it of the consequences.