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Israeli Supreme Court Orders Support for Torah Students to Stop

This item is really inside baseball, but it could affect the U.S. presidential election. Many people, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), believe that a huge obstacle to peace in the Middle East is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Schumer has openly called for new elections in Israel so the Israelis can dump Netanyahu. That didn't go over so well with Netanyahu, who is under indictment for corruption and sees staying in power as a way to avoid prison. In other countries, people don't seek power to avoid prison. Oh wait, maybe there are some others. Gotta check with the staff carceral affairs consultant.

Anyway, ultra-orthodox Jewish students in Israel who go to yeshivas (religious schools) and spend the entire day studying the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—for Christians, the first five books of the Old Testament) have historically been exempt from the military draft. In 2017, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that these exemptions are discriminatory and illegal. There has been in-fighting about this ever since. The Court ordered the government to come up with a plan for drafting the students. The deadline for submitting the plan was yesterday. There is no plan. In addition, the Court ordered the monthly subsidies the Torah students get from the government to stop today.

These developments are a massive headache for Netanyahu. Seventy percent of Israelis want to end the exemptions and have the yeshiva students serve in the army, like all other young Israelis, both male and female. The ultra-orthodox see conscription as a threat to their way of life since it will expose young men to the world outside their yeshivas and communities, something about which they know nothing. The current coalition has 64 of the 120 seats in the parliament. The parties in the coalition are split on the exemption. Some insist on drafting the yeshiva students, especially since the army needs more soldiers in the middle of a war, while the ultra-orthodox parties will pull out of the coalition if the students become subject to the draft. That would force new elections. Polls show that if elections are held now, Netanyahu will lose and cease to be prime minister, which is what Schumer called for.

If the parties in the coalition can't come to an agreement very quickly, the government will fall and there will be new elections. If the opposition gets the majority, there will be a new prime minister, probably one not as right-wing as Netanyahu, and possibly one who could agree to a cease fire now and potentially even a Palestinian state, with financial help and guarantees from Saudi Arabia. This would completely change the situation in the Middle East, so a lot is riding on whether Netanyahu can pull a rabbit out of his kippah. If he can't, and there are new elections resulting in a different government, Joe Biden, whose core expertise is foreign policy, might get the chance to broker a permanent peace in the region. If he could help end 75 years of war there, that would surely boost his campaign, and possibly even attract some evangelical voters, who believe that Jesus will only return to Earth if there is a Jewish state in Israel. There are a lot of "ifs" here, but getting rid of Netanyahu would be a first step. (V)

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