JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s Supreme Court warned on Monday the government of a real risk of a “catastrophic setback” to public security after an ultra-Orthodox group filed a lawsuit that could strip Jews of the right to build without a permit.

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his cabinet attend a meeting on security changes to be implemented after the elections, in central Jerusalem September 9, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo

The central administrative committee of the IAFRA community, the Kiryat Arba ultra-Orthodox group, claimed the government intended to strip it of the right to build and ordered the attorney general to investigate “whether the government’s actions constitute a crime”.

It represented the biggest challenge yet to the ruling Netanyahu government, which last month called a snap election in an attempt to remove centrist Kadima.

The final legal mandate of the 60,000-strong community – which refuses to identify as a Jewish religious group – is unclear. Its outcry follows a mass demonstration of religious adherents in Jerusalem’s main Temple Mount on the eve of Yom Kippur, one of Judaism’s holiest days, which was called off on Sunday amid opposition from the government.

The latest test case is now back in the Israeli court, where the administration is expected to be asked to respond to the plaintiffs’ claim that the government’s actions are arbitrary and disproportionate.

Religious court judge, Fares Ashraf ruled the plaintiffs’ claims that the law was an affront to the rabbi were likely to succeed. The main thrust of the challenge, according to the judge, is that the law does not apply to 1,100 of the group’s members for whom non-Jews are not considered tenants.

Its primary demand, according to the judge, is for the government to clarify whether allowing non-Jews to buy an apartment is legal or untenable.


The IAFRA’s strategy, according to plaintiffs attorney Shlomo Bar-Yosef, reflects an “rhetoric offensive” aimed at derailing the Labour-led government.

“We think this will be a full-fledged assault on public security that could undermine the security of the country and its people,” Bar-Yosef told reporters at the Supreme Court.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, which has traditionally been seen as more moderate, urged the judge to uphold the law, casting the case as the prime minister’s ambition to demonstrate his credentials as a leader of a large and identifiable religious community.

“This case has gone too far,” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter. “With the help of the Labor Party, we may not just take care of the problem of a thousand houses, but turn the entire system upside down.”

David Frenkel, the foreign minister of Israel’s fervently Orthodox Ashkenazi and Haredi parties, urged the court to support Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud.

“The prime minister has shown again that he and his government, backed by the Supreme Court, are pursuing a policy which will drastically limit the right of religious individuals to build in Israel, and threaten the survival of its Jewish character and the obligation to treat all of its citizens with utmost respect,” Frenkel said.

Tearful religious ultra-Orthodox community members gathered outside the court at 1 p.m. and defended their rights to practice their religion.