(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The High Court of Justice on Tuesday heard arguments by a nongovernmental organization to invalidate the ultra-Orthodox conscription law passed in March on the basis that it is still unequal and still grants too much favored treatment to haredim.
The primary stated purpose of the law was revolutionary: To increase haredi participation in the IDF and national service by 2017 by several thousand participants per year over the small percentage that have been serving until now.
The Movement for Quality Government in Israel has attacked the law on multiple grounds, including its lack of requiring universal service, its permitting many haredim who serve to defer their service from age 18 to 21 and its incremental approach of increasing haredi participation over the next three years.
It says that non-haredim must serve when called up above the age of 18 with no categorical exceptions or delays either related to age or related achieving incremental progress.
The NGO said that the nine justice panel presided over by Supreme Court President Asher D. Grunis agreed with its premise that the law was unequal, and spent much of the hearing questioning the state as to the scope of the inequality.
The justices’ questions seemed to suggest that the state was reserving for itself too much discretion in how long to try to achieve quotas and regarding what sanctions would apply if quotas were not met as well as when those sanctions would kick in.
The state argued that the law is a massive improvement, but the historical context is complex and patience and discretion are needed so as not to alienate the ultra-Orthodox community.
In September, Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri took heavy criticism in a public debate over whether haredi enlistment has risen or dropped since the law passed.
Peri’s office released statistics for haredi conscription between July 2013 and July 2014 that showed a 39 percent rise in the number of haredi men drafted into the IDF over the figures for the previous year.
However, the conscription rate for the second half of 2013, before the law was passed, was significantly higher than that in the first half of 2014, when the haredi leadership waged a strong battle against the March law.
In July this year the Knesset oversight committee for the implementation of the law heard from IDF officials that between July and December 2013 inclusively, 1,235 ultra-Orthodox men were drafted. But from January to June 2014 inclusive, just 737 were drafted, a decline of 40% over the previous six-month period.
Jeremy Sharon contributed to this story.