Israeli court halts subsidies for ultra-Orthodox who don’t serve in army

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TEL AVIV — Israel’s Supreme Court on Thursday ordered an end to state funding for ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students who do not serve in the army, a blockbuster ruling that could imperil the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he wages war with Hamas in Gaza and clashes with key ally the United States.

The government faces a separate Monday deadline to come up with a new military conscription plan, as the war stirs mainstream public anger over exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox — a longstanding point of tension that could now bring political upheaval.

The court has placed new pressure on Netanyahu, whose fragile governing coalition partly relies on two ultra-Orthodox parties that have demanded the exemptions remain in place. A collapse of Netanyahu’s government would thrust Israel into new elections, which polls suggest he would likely lose.

Netanyahu’s War Cabinet, meanwhile, features centrist former military generals who have given voice to mounting frustrations among the Jewish Israeli public over the fact that the ultra-Orthodox have been exempt from service even in the midst of the Israel-Hamas war.

Most Jewish men in Israel are required to serve nearly three years in the military, along with years of reserve duty, while Jewish women must serve two mandatory years. But for decades, exemptions have existed for the ultra-Orthodox, who make up about 13% of Israeli society, to allow them to study full time in religious seminaries.

The Supreme Court previously ruled that the exemptions are discriminatory and gave the Israeli government until Monday to present a new plan that addresses those concerns, and until June 30 to pass it.

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