Ultra-Orthodox Jewish demonstrators block Jerusalem’s roads ahead of the Israeli court’s decision on conscription exemptions

Dozens of ultra-Orthodox Jewish protesters blocked roads in Jerusalem on Sunday as Israel’s Supreme Court heard arguments in a landmark case challenging the controversial military service exemption system granted to the religious community.

The court is examining the legality of the exemptions that divided the country and threatened the collapse of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition. A decision is expected in the coming weeks.

Most Jewish men and women in Israel are required to perform compulsory military service at the age of eighteen. But politically powerful Ultra-Orthodox traditionally receive exemptions if they study full-time in religious seminaries. These exemptions angered the general public, especially after hundreds of soldiers were killed in the war with Hamas.

During Sunday’s arguments, government lawyers told the justices that forcing ultra-Orthodox men into the draft would “tear Israeli society apart.” The court proposed a target of recruiting 3,000 ultra-Orthodox men annually – more than double current levels but still less than 25% of their total numbers.

In Jerusalem, Israeli police cleared the roads of demonstrators, forcibly removing those who briefly blocked the city’s light rail. The demonstrators chanted, “For prison, not for the army.”

In March, the court ordered the cessation of government support for several ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who do not serve in the army.

Netanyahu faces a court-ordered deadline of June 30 to pass a new law ending broad exemptions. But he relies on ultra-Orthodox parties to support his government, and ending the exemptions could lead to their departure and new elections.

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