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IDF Chief Halevi praises ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda Battalion, calls for more Haredi enlistment

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi speaks with members of the Netzah Yehuda Battalion in northern Israel (Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

IDF Chief of Staff Lt-Col. Herzi Halevi visited members of the ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda Battalion on Thursday, praising its members for being “pioneers” and calling on them to be an example to other eligible ultra-Orthodox men.

During his visit to northern Israel, Halevi urged the men to demonstrate that studying the Torah while serving in the Israeli military is possible.

"The IDF needs more fighters," Halevi told them. "We want you to show that it's possible to be a Haredi fighter, to study and protect the state's security. Continue doing a good job, protecting the residents here and also being a pioneer – Haredi fighters, each one as he defines himself."

Halevi promised to strengthen the Netzah Yehuda Battalion ("Judah's Victory" in Hebrew) and “see that you do more, get stronger, and prove that this is the right way."

The IDF chief's visit comes after a recent push to draft more eligible ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) men of military age, who are currently exempt.

The Supreme Court heard arguments earlier this week both for and against the immediate enlistment of approximately 3,000 ultra-Orthodox Jewish men. After eight months of war with the Hamas terror group, the IDF has seen a shortage of combat soldiers, creating a new push to enlist Haredi men.

The enlistment of Haredi students engaged in advanced Torah study has been a contentious issue in Israeli society.

Opponents of the exemption policy say it’s unfair for these students to be excused from military duty while others must serve and risk their lives for the country's security. Others argue that enlisting these men violates their freedom of religion, as Torah study is a central part of Judaism and that interrupting their studies contradicts their rabbis’ teachings.

Ultra-Orthodox political parties in the Israeli government have threatened to leave the coalition if Yeshiva students are forced to enlist in the army.

Some members of Netzah Yehuda were previously found guilty of abusing Palestinian citizens and later disciplined for their actions. In April, media outlets reported the United States intended to impose sanctions against the ultra-Orthodox group.

Halevi and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant took steps to prevent the U.S. decision from being carried out and spoke out against the U.S. plan of action.

“The commanders and troops of the Netzah Yehuda Battalion operate on the frontline. Since the outbreak of the war, they have been working to push Hezbollah forces from the northern border, to thwart terrorism in Judea and Samaria, and most recently, they are operating to dismantle Hamas brigades in Gaza," Gallant said in a statement released by the Ministry of Defense.

"They are risking their lives and fighting terrorism. The battalion’s activities are carried out in accordance with the values of the IDF and in accordance with international law. Any event that deviates from the aforementioned standards is addressed accordingly,” the statement continued.

In the statement, Gallant noted that criticizing an entire unit undermines the IDF's ability to protect Israel's citizens and negatively impacts the entire defense system.

“Our friends and our enemies are closely watching the ties between Israel and the United States, now more than ever. I call on the U.S. administration to withdraw its intention to impose sanctions on the Netzah Yehuda Battalion.”

The U.S. State Department decided against imposing the sanctions on the Israeli army and police after receiving additional information from the Israeli authorities about disciplinary steps taken against the offending soldiers.

“The United States plays with fire when it sanctions our allies’ military units,” said Mark Dubowitz, CEO of The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).

“It opens the door for other countries to sanction U.S. military units, and it is a finger in the eye of those allies, like Israel, that have their own independent judiciaries and systems of military justice,” he added.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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