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Israeli Supreme Court orders government to stop funding religious schools that defy enlistment, in blow to Netanyahu

The Israeli Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the government to stop funding religious schools whose students defy the country’s mandatory military service, posing one of the most serious threats to date for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

Netanyahu relies on two Ultra-Orthodox parties – Shas and United Torah Judaism – to maintain a governing coalition. His wartime cabinet partners – Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Benny Gantz, of the National Unity Party – have been heavily critical of Netanyahu’s approach to the issue of Ultra-Orthodox conscription.

“The judges of the High Court of Justice want to saw off the branch of existence of the Jewish people,” Ariyeh Deri, leader of the Shas party, said in a statement on X. “The people of Israel are engaged in a war of existence on several fronts and the High Court of Justice judges did everything tonight to create a fratricidal war as well.”

Young men studying in yeshivas have since the country’s founding been exempt from mandatory military service – in practice, exempting all Ultra-Orthodox Israelis. But the exemption has never been enshrined in a law that the Supreme Court views as equitable, and for years has been carried out by patch-work government mandates. Netanyahu this week attempted to delay the Supreme Court’s deadline to pass a law that would make official the exemption.

After decades of rulings on the subject, the Supreme Court told the government that it was illegal for the government to both fund yeshivas and exempt their students from conscription. In a ruling late Thursday, the Supreme Court said that starting on April 1, the government could no longer transfer funds to yeshivas whose students did not receive legitimate deferments.

Yitzhak Goldknopf, leader of the United Torah Judaism party, called the ruling “a sign of disgrace and contempt.”

“The State of Israel arose to be a home for the Jewish people whose Torah is true Torah, and there is no power in the world that can do it,” he said. “Without the Torah, we have no right to exist.”

Ultra-Orthodox Jews view religious study as fundamental to the preservation of Judaism. For many of those who live in Israel, that means study is just as important to Israel’s defense as the military.

Gantz, of the National Unity Party, said that the court “ruled the obvious today. The time has come for the government to do the obvious. It’s time for action.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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