Warrior Class

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Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip has stirred controversy worldwide, less so at home. But now, Israelis are arguing over who among them should be fighting.

The Israeli Supreme Court last week ordered the Israeli government to cut off funding from ultra-Orthodox religious schools called “yeshivas” whose students have been exempt from military service that is mandatory for most other Israelis, CNN reported.

The court’s decision could undermine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose governing coalition depends on secular parties that support the change, as well as ultraorthodox politicians who want to protect the exemption for religious students belonging to the so-called Haredi community.

The court gave the government an April 1 date to take action when Netanyahu announced that he did not have the votes to extend a military exemption for Haredi students.

The exemption stems from a 1949 rule that let 400 Haredim in Israel avoid conscription, wrote the Washington Post. Since then, the ultra-Orthodox community has grown to comprise 13 percent of the country’s population. But 70 percent of Israeli Jews want to end the exemption, saying everyone should contribute to the nation’s security. Most Haredim are exempt although a few serve – the ruling would impact about 50,000 yeshiva students. Israeli Arabs are also exempt from military service.

Many Haredim, however, see the change as a threat to their scholarly lifestyle as well as Israel’s Jewish identity. “If a yeshiva student has to leave the yeshiva to be drafted, for whatever reason, then we will not stay in the government,” Moshe Roth, a Haredi parliamentarian, told the New York Times. “This is a make it or break it. The only way to protect the Torah and to keep it alive, as it has been for the last 3,500 years, is by having yeshivas.”

Yona Kruskal, a 42-year-old father of 11 who studies full-time, recently joined 200 others to block traffic in Jerusalem in a protest. Speaking to the Times of Israel, Kruskal insisted he would prefer to die than serve in the military.

Meanwhile, Yehiel Tropper, a minister without portfolio in Netanyahu’s coalition, views the Haredim as selfish. The government was considering lengthening service requirements for soldiers amid the war in Gaza while the Haredim were fighting to remain safe behind their fellow citizens’ sacrifices.

“The thought that young people will extend their service for three years, while their peers will not serve a single day, in military or civilian service, is intolerable,” Tropper wrote on Facebook, according to the Guardian.

The government is now considering limited exemptions, noted the BBC, that everyone might accept. But while the Haredi parties have threatened to pull out of the emergency government if the exemption is dropped, Benny Gantz’s centrist National Union party said it would leave the government if the draft plan moves forward.

The Haredim have thrived so far without compromising, however. Still, Barak Seri, a former adviser to the Haredi party, Shas, told Israel public radio that “from the moment that the court ruled, the Haredi parties have been in utter shock … This is the worst situation the Haredim have ever been in.”

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