Is­rael min­is­ters ad­vance bill in bid to pre­vent early polls


JERUSALEM: Is­raeli min­is­ters gave ini­tial ap­proval Mon­day to a bill ex­empt­ing young ul­tra-Ortho­dox men from mil­i­tary ser­vice, a spokesman said, the first con­crete step to­ward re­solv­ing a cri­sis that has threat­ened early elec­tions.

But while the min­is­te­rial com­mit­tee for leg­is­la­tion ap­proved the con­tro­ver­sial bill, De­fense Minister Avig­dor Lieber­man has not said whether he will ac­cept the com­pro­mise.

The cri­sis within Prime Minister Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s right-wing coali­tion fol­lows spec­u­la­tion over whether the premier wants early polls to bol­ster his po­lit­i­cal stand­ing ahead of his pos­si­ble in­dict­ment for bribery in the com­ing months.

Ne­tanyahu has re­peat­edly said he wants the coali­tion to last its en­tire term, which ends in Novem­ber 2019.

The coali­tion has been at log­ger­heads since ul­tra-Ortho­dox par­ties said they would not sup­port next year’s bud­get un­less a law is passed to ex­empt reli­gious stu­dents from mil­i­tary ser­vice.

Fi­nance Minister Moshe Kahlon said he would re­sign if the bud­get does not pass in the Knes­set’s win­ter ses­sion, which ends on March 18.

Some in Ne­tanyahu’s right-wing coali­tion sug­gested the premier was de­lib­er­ately al­low­ing the cri­sis to worsen to ex­pe­dite elec­tions for per­sonal rea­sons.

But in a late meet­ing Sun­day, ul­tra-Ortho­dox fac­tions told Ne­tanyahu they would agree to sup­port the bud­get if the mil­i­tary con­scrip­tion bill passed the min­is­te­rial com­mit­tee and an ini­tial par­lia­men­tary read­ing, post­pon­ing a fi­nal vote un­til the sum­mer ses­sion.

A spokesman for the Jus­tice Min­istry said min­is­ters had ap­proved the draft bill, and fur­ther ne­go­ti­a­tions were ex­pected with the at­tor­ney gen­eral and De­fense Min­istry.

The need for a new bill arose af­ter the Supreme Court in Septem­ber struck down a law al­low­ing ul­tra­Ortho­dox men to be ex­empted from mil­i­tary ser­vice up un­til 2023. The court gave Par­lia­ment a year to pass a new law. The is­sue is part of a decades-old de­bate over whether young ul­tra-Ortho­dox men study­ing at sem­i­nar­ies should per­form manda­tory mil­i­tary ser­vice like the rest of Is­rael’s Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion.

In 2015, law­mak­ers passed leg­is­la­tion ex­tend­ing their ex­emp­tion from duty, re­vers­ing a law passed the pre­vi­ous year that would have seen it ex­pire.

Mem­bers of Lieber­man’s Yis­rael Beit­enu party im­plied they would ob­ject to the com­pro­mise ap­proved Mon­day, which they said did not an­swer the needs of Is­rael’s se­cu­rity.

Lieber­man, who has pushed for com­pul­sory mil­i­tary ser­vice for ul­tra-Ortho­dox men, was ex­pected to ad­dress the is­sue at a party meet­ing later Mon­day.

Ne­tanyahu, 68, could soon face charges in at least two sep­a­rate cor­rup­tion af­fairs. He has been prime minister for a to­tal of 12 years, from 1996-1999 and again since 2009.

Ortho­dox par­ties say they would not sup­port next year’s bud­get un­less a law is passed to ex­empt reli­gious stu­dents from Is­raeli mil­i­tary ser­vice. (AFP)

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