Israel considers removing military draft exemption privilege for ultra-Orthodox Jews, who claim they protect the country through the power of God
On July 5, 2012 At 2:10 am
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A committee in Israel has released a report calling for the country's Haredim — ultra-Orthodox Jews — to be drafted for military service. It has become a contentious issue that may threaten the coalition government.
The Haredim study the Torah and pray from morning to dusk, for a lifetime. They believe that worship and duty is their purpose.
But prayer has not brought peace.
For years, the Haredim have been exempt from Israel's military draft. The Israeli government is looking to end the special status for the religious group by requiring them to perform military service just like everyone else.
The Haredim say that they already do their part to protect the country through the power of God. They also feel that they must be separated from the rest of society and that if thousands of Haredim men are sent to the army, the principle of separation will be harmed.
Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community has grown over the decades, from just a handful to tens of thousands.
Many Israelis are resentful of the fact that ultra-Orthodox Jews live off government stipends. Full time religious studies means that few are employed in the standard labor market. There is a growing narrative about how the rest of the country is footing the bill for this one community.
Al Jazeera's reporters interviewed people on the street for their opinions.
"I think that every Israeli citizen should have individual rights and individual responsibilities, and they should be drafted as individuals and they should serve and they should serve honorably," one man told reporters.
A woman expressed frustration with the religious privileges enjoyed by the Haredim. "There's no doubt that the ultra-Orthodox should serve in the army. There's no reason why my 18-year-old friend should be protecting them at checkpoints while they're just sitting at home."
Drafting the Haredim has become the top political issue in Israel because criticism of the ultra-Orthodox community is part of a perpetual debate about the character of Israel — how secular it should be or how Jewish. Any decision by the government to put these men into the military, the Haradem say, would disrupt their spiritual growth.