Military draft dispute could topple Israeli government
With just days left before a court-imposed deadline to reform Israel’s military draft law expires, the country’s political leaders are at loggerheads on how to resolve what has become perhaps the country’s most pressing – and divisive – domestic issue.
The impasse over whether and how to scrap mass exemptions from military service for ultra-Orthodox Jews has already cost Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu his largest coalition partner. With no obvious compromise in sight ahead of the 1 August deadline, the issue has the potential to trigger the government’s collapse and lead to snap elections.
The debate over the exemptions cuts along the nation’s secular-religious divide. Israel’s secular majority, which is required to perform two to three years of compulsory service, widely resents the exemptions, while ultra-Orthodox leaders have refused to compromise, claiming their young men serve the nation through prayer and study.
Earlier this month, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed to find a solution to please all sides, dissolved a committee that recommended doing away with mass exemptions. That prompted his largest coalition partner, the Kadima Party, to quit government.
Netanyahu has now presented a watered-down alternative that doesn’t appear likely to be implemented either.
The exemptions infuriate the general public, since most are required to serve in the military. Meanwhile the ultra-Orthodox, who make up about 10 per cent of Israel’s eight million citizens, live off state subsidies in their insular communities.
A solution appears unlikely to be found by the deadline next week. If nothing happens by then, some 60,000 ultra- Orthodox men of military age who currently enjoy exemptions will officially be considered deserters. But defence minister Ehud Barak also has the prerogative to issue emergency measures to maintain the status quo if he decides to do so.
The draft privileges date back to the 1940s, when Israel’s founders exempted 400 exemplary religious students to help rebuild great schools of Jewish learning destroyed during the Holocaust. As the ultra-Orthodox have emerged as kingmakers in politics, they have blocked any reform initiatives – until Israel’s supreme court earlier this year ruled the current arrangement discriminatory and ordered an end to the exemptions.
The doomed committee met for weeks and ultimately suggested that no more than 20 per cent of ultra-Orthodox males, roughly 1,500 people a year, be granted exemptions, while others be permitted to defer service for no more than four years.
But Netanyahu rejected the recommendations, saying they were unlikely to win parliamentary approval, and tasked former military chief and cabinet minister, Moshe Yaalon, from his own Likud Party with drafting an alternative.
Kadima quit the government last week after the sides failed to reach a compromise, while Yaalon’s proposals drew a cascade of criticism from opposition and social activists alike.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 19 June 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 12 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east