Military draft exemption for ultra-Orthodox shakes Israeli coalition

July 3, 2012

(Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men wear sacks, a symbol of mourning, as they pray during a protest against a new conscription law that might force ultra-Orthodox Jews to serve in the army, in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighbourhood June 25, 2012. REUTERS/Baz Ratner)

A dispute over military draft exemptions exposed cracks in Israel’s ruling coalition on Monday, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed a panel charged with drafting reforms of the law on the emotive issue.

Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, head of coalition partner Kadima, threatened to end their two-month-old alliance unless Netanyahu pushed for reforms to make more ultra-Orthodox Israelis and Arab citizens eligible for military or national service.

Mofaz’s outburst at a party meeting followed an announcement by Netanyahu earlier in the day that a panel headed by a Kadima member, charged with drafting proposals for conscription reform, had been “for all intents and purposes … disbanded.”

Netanyahu is also under attack from his other coalition partners, ultra-Orthodox parties who have threatened to quit if he does pursue reforms that would make their followers do military service. Netanyahu has cautiously supported the reform.

The row set the stage for a month of heated debate before a deadline next month for a new law to replace the 2002 “Tal Law” that exempts ultra-Orthodox communities from military service.

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