Boiling pot: ‘Israel’s’ ideological discord – Al Mayadeen English

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This piece offers a perspective on how the ultra-Orthodox draft bill could incite turmoil within the Israeli occupation government and among Israeli settlers, further widening ideological discord in “Israel”.

  • Burning pot: ‘Israel’s’ ideological discord (Designed by: Arwa Makki/Al Mayadeen English)

As the Israeli war on Gaza is ongoing, widespread exemptions from compulsory military service for ultra-Orthodox Jewish Israelis (Haredi) have reignited a profound rift within the occupation entity and unsettled an already troubled government coalition. This comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s members of the War Cabinet strongly oppose his proposed legislation for conscription reform.

Now, as the issue boils, Netanyahu has his back against the wall. If the five-member War Cabinet were to collapse, it would undermine “Israel’s” stability during a “critical phase” of the war on Gaza. On the other hand, losing the support of the ultra-Orthodox parties would lead to the downfall of his broader coalition government. This possibility is particularly concerning for Netanyahu since he and his Likud party are currently lagging in opinion polls.

In a potentially significant development with profound political and societal ramifications, the High Court of Justice issued an interim order on Thursday evening, prohibiting the government from allocating funds to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas for students eligible for enlistment with the Israeli army. This comes as the legal framework instructing the IOF to temporarily not draft ultra-Orthodox Jewish Israelis (Haredi) students despite the expiration of the legislation, which itself will expire today, March 31, at midnight. The court’s ruling is set to be effective starting April 1.

Ultra-Orthodox resistance to conscription

The recruitment dilemma stands out as a pivotal issue deeply intertwined with the establishment of the Israeli occupation government and the subsequent influx of settlers into occupied territories. The profound divisions surrounding this matter embody just one of the numerous challenges endangering the long-term feasibility of the Israeli occupation, greatly increasing the risk of its eventual collapse.

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The exemptions provided to the ultra-Orthodox Haredi community date back to the occupation of Palestine and the establishment of the Israeli entity in 1948. During this time, David Ben-Gurion, then Israeli Prime Minister, granted approximately 400 students exemption from military service. This is observed as a strategic move aimed at incentivizing Jews, particularly the ultra-Orthodox community, to move and settle in the occupied land. Since then, the exemptions have evolved into a growing concern as the rapidly expanding Haredi community now constitutes over 13% of the Israeli occupation’s population, according to a report by Reuters. This number is projected to increase to around a third within the next 40 years, largely due to a high birth rate.

The reluctance of the Haredi community to enlist in the military stems from their deeply rooted religious identity. Many families fear that military service may pose a threat to their religious values and traditions, potentially “weakening their sense of identity.” Statistics suggest that with the growing Haredi community, which is exempt from military service, the Israeli military may face significant shortages in the future, potentially leading to its collapse. Ultra-Orthodox Jews believe that studying the Torah is a duty that all Jewish males must fulfill. They argue that this duty is so important that it should “excuse them from other responsibilities, like serving in the military.” They think that their spiritual dedication to studying the Torah is vital for the “health and survival of the Jewish community.”

At the same time, around half of the Israeli Haredi community does not work, although the previous government called on 50% of the population to join the workforce. Most of these men study religious texts, which they are supposed to abide by in their everyday life and practice. Some schools of thought have encouraged ultra-Orthodox Jewish Israelis to join the force, however, the majority refuse to serve in the occupation’s military. Non-Haredi Israelis view the phenomenon as hypocritical and have urged equal service among all members of the settler community. 

Haredim’s departure could trigger Netanyahu’s

Earlier this month, Israeli Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef threatened a mass departure from the occupation entity if mandatory military drafting was enforced, sparking a great uproar within the occupation entity. “If you force them to go to the army, we’ll all move abroad,” Yosef said. He argued that “all these secular people don’t understand that without kollels and yeshivas, the army would not be successful,” referring to institutions where religious men study Jewish texts rather than working or enlisting. “The soldiers only succeed thanks to those learning the Torah.”

It is crucial to highlight that Yosef’s statement carries a lot of weight, particularly due to its timing coinciding with the ongoing battles on several fronts – in the Gaza Strip and northern occupied Palestine. These ongoing confrontations have resulted in daily losses for the occupation forces, leading to noticeable strain on their internal cohesion. Looking at his family history, Yosef isn’t just an ordinary rabbi. He is the son of Ovadia Yosef, the religious leader of the Shas Party, a crucial ally in Netanyahu’s coalition government. This means that his departure is bound to create serious ramifications for the government. 

‘Netanyahu: Caught between a rock and a hard place’

On his part, Israeli War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz has pledged to withdraw support if the Knesset approves a bill maintaining exemptions. Another member of the opposition party, head of the Israeli opposition, Yair Lapid, said, “If Israel does not draft the Haredim, then it does not have the right to demand more from the reservists.” At the same time, the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Israelis have issued warnings that they will leave the government unless draft-preventing laws are passed. These indicate a distinct division within the government and the Israeli settler community, highlighting evident consequences whether the bill is passed or not.

For Netanyahu, the situation presents significant challenges and risks. On the one hand, there is growing public support for removing the exemptions granted to the Haredi community. This sentiment reflects a broader desire for “equality and shared societal obligations” among the Israeli settler community, as they put it. However, Netanyahu’s government includes two ultra-Orthodox parties whose support is crucial for maintaining his coalition majority in the Knesset. If these parties were to withdraw their support due to changes in military draft laws, it could lead to the collapse of the government. It is also crucial to mention that Israeli Security Minister Yoav Gallant has also opposed Netanyahu’s bill, signifying a rift within Netanyhau’s Likud party itself.

By pressuring Netanyahu on this issue, the opposition can plunge his government into political instability. If Netanyahu is unable to appease both his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners and the demands of the secular and centrist electorate, his government may become increasingly unstable, where the opposition hopes to gain ground and further weaken Netanyahu’s political power.

For secular Israelis, who consider that they are bearing the burden of “subsidizing the ultra-Orthodox Jews through taxes” while they themselves are required to serve in the military, the exemptions have long been a source of resentment. This feeling has intensified over the past six months since the war on Gaza began.

A boiling pot waiting to explode

In a matter of a week, the occupation witnessed polarized protests. With one supporting the forced conscription law and the other opposing it, internal Israeli disputes have gone to unprecedented scopes and increased on more than one level in parallel with the ongoing Israeli genocide in Gaza for more than five months now having failed to achieve the announced war objectives.

Earlier this month, large-scale demonstrations erupted across the occupied Palestinian territories, calling for the imposition of compulsory military service on the Haredim, a prisoner exchange deal with the Palestinian Resistance, and the resignation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu coupled with the formation of a new government. A few days later, amid extreme differences in positions and opinions regarding the administration of the war and negotiations surrounding the captives deal, Haredi Jews clashed with other Israeli settlers in refusal of the Israeli occupation’s law of mandatory conscription.

As the occupation grapples with these multifaceted challenges, the clash of opposing ideologies and interests threatens to further deepen societal rifts and exacerbate political instability. In this volatile landscape, the resolution of the conscription issue carries significant implications. The conscription law could infuriate the Israeli Haredi community, prompting their withdrawal from the Netanyahu government and potentially even prompting them to leave the occupied land altogether. It would also pave the way for the opposition party to topple Netanyahu and for the Israeli interior to implode, weakening the occupation government politically and economically.

Thus, the stakes are high, and how this issue is addressed will have far-reaching consequences for Israeli politics and the stability of the occupation government for generations to come as trust in the military and security establishments has been shaken to the core. 

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