Jus­tice un­de­ferred

The Jerusalem Post - - COMMENT & FEATURES -

Af­ter rul­ings last week that struck down egre­gious ex­am­ples of leg­isla­tive in­equal­ity, the Supreme Court has come un­der a ve­he­ment as­sault by ul­tra-Ortho­dox par­ties and their coali­tion fel­low trav­el­ers. Op­po­nents of the court on the right-wing of Is­raeli coali­tion pol­i­tics de­clared their in­tent to pass laws that would strip the court of its con­sti­tu­tional role as the sole guardian of our demo­cratic rights.

In over­rul­ing the law “reg­u­lat­ing” the draft of haredi yeshiva stu­dents, the court threw out a po­lit­i­cal deal based on in­equal­ity of cit­i­zen­ship. The law dis­crim­i­nated against the coun­try’s youth who do not claim to be en­ti­tled to an au­to­matic de­fer­ment from the duty to de­fend the coun­try for the pur­poses of a course of study, whether re­li­gious or sec­u­lar.

The ul­tra-Ortho­dox par­ties – Shas and United To­rah Ju­daism – backed by prag­matic cabi­net min­is­ters keen to re­tain their jobs, are now lob­by­ing for an over­ride clause in new leg­is­la­tion to pre­vent the Supreme Court, sit­ting as the High Court of Jus­tice, from ex­er­cis­ing its demo­cratic role.

UTJ chair­man Ya’acov Litz­man said his party wants to re­store the govern­ment’s abil­ity to grant mass ex­emp­tion from mil­i­tary ser­vice to haredi yeshiva stu­dents. Litz­man and his part­ner in bul­ly­ing, Shas chair­man Arye Deri, claim a right of ex­emp­tion be­cause they be­lieve re­li­gious study is more im­por­tant than na­tional de­fense.

On Thurs­day night they were joined by Jus­tice Min­is­ter Ayelet Shaked and Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Naf­tali Bennett.

It ap­pears that the last time the Jewish peo­ple val­ued its sur­vival over the obli­ga­tion of To­rah study was when the na­tion was called to war on its way to the Promised Land. The Bi­ble records the first im­per­a­tive of na­tional ser­vice in Num­bers 1:45:

“All the Is­raelites aged 20 years and over, en­rolled by their an­ces­tral houses, all those in Is­rael who were able to bear arms” are ob­li­gated to serve. How­ever, in a fol­low­ing verse God cre­ated a catch, telling Moses: “Do not on my ac­count en­roll the tribe of Levi or take a cen­sus of them with the Is­raelites.” The tribe of Levi was ex­empt due to its duty of at­tend­ing to the Taber­na­cle.

Mil­len­nia later we are with­out a Taber­na­cle or its suc­ces­sive tem­ples, but faced with a sim­i­lar but less clear-cut prob­lem. This is ap­par­ently due to the ul­tra-Ortho­dox politi­cians’ iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with the tribe of Levi. Do haredi Jews hon­estly be­lieve that they alone in Is­raeli so­ci­ety qual­ify for mil­i­tary de­fer­ment due to their com­mit­ment to re­li­gious study? Is there a rabbi in Is­rael who sin­cerely be­lieves that a yeshiva stu­dent has the moral right to study while even his fel­low Ortho­dox cit­i­zens can com­bine re­li­gious study and mil­i­tary ser­vice in the so-called hes­der yeshiva move­ment?

Ku­lanu MK Roy Folk­man told The Jerusalem Post he de­nounced at­tacks on the High Court as dan­ger­ous and harm­ful to the coun­try and called for “se­ri­ous” and mean­ing­ful leg­is­la­tion on the haredi-en­list­ment is­sue. “We want to help in­te­grate the haredim into the army in a rea­son­able man­ner while pre­serv­ing the prin­ci­ple of yeshiva study ex­emp­tions to some ex­tent,” he said.

De­fense Min­is­ter Avig­dor Liber­man as­serted that the High Court de­ci­sion is a golden op­por­tu­nity to cor­rect “in­jus­tices” in the lack of draft equal­ity. It would be “a mis­take to talk about an over­ride clause,” he in­sisted. Rather, he said, “we need to talk about real change.”

Zion­ist Union MK Itzik Sh­muly ac­cused Shaked and Bennett of “trolling the courts,” de­rid­ing their press re­lease that claimed that pass­ing laws the courts can­not strike down is a rec­og­nized prac­tice world­wide. “Only in a dark dic­ta­tor­ship is the Supreme Court sub­ju­gated to po­lit­i­cal gim­micks,” he said.

Mean­while, Deri called the Supreme Court “dis­con­nected” from the Jewish peo­ple, while Litz­man called the de­ci­sion “dis­crim­i­na­tory against haredim.”

The real is­sue is the fact that the Supreme Court is our democ­racy’s es­sen­tial watch­dog against cor­rup­tion, whether civil or re­li­gious. Un­like politi­cians, it is not mo­ti­vated by pol­i­tics but by an agenda to guar­an­tee that Is­rael shall re­main a plu­ral­is­tic so­ci­ety where all cit­i­zens have the same rights.

While Jewish tra­di­tion guides the Jewish state, it must work in har­mony with the rule of law.

With­out the law, the only democ­racy in the Mid­dle East would face the abyss of theoc­racy or worse. The Jewish state can sur­vive only if it is both demo­cratic and Jewish. To en­sure that bal­ance the court needs to re­main in­de­pen­dent.

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