The Israeli Cabinet approved a bill that would make make military or community service mandatory for most ultra-Orthodox Jews, reversing an exemption policy in force since the beginning of the state.
The bill allows for a four-year transition period and will maintain draft exemptions for 1,800 outstanding seminary students annually. It was approved by a vote of 14 in favor, none against, and four abstentions, according to government spokesman Mark Regev.
“Today, after 65 years, we are submitting for Cabinet approval the outline on increasing equality in sharing the burden,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said before the vote, according to an e-mailed statement from his office. “Our objective is twofold: integrating young ultra-Orthodox into military and national service, and no less important, integrating them into the labor market.”
The exemptions initially applied to several hundred top rabbinical students who were allowed to study, rather than serve, in a symbolic rebuilding of great Jewish houses of learning destroyed in the Holocaust. Today about 60,000 ultra-Orthodox men pursue religious studies instead of military service. Other Jewish men are drafted for a compulsory three years and women serve two years.
The privileges have irked Israel’s secular and modern Orthodox majority, especially because they have established a pattern whereby many ultra-Orthodox men continue their studies after draft age and do not work, plunging many of their families into poverty. The new government, which took office in March, does not include ultra-Othodox parties for the first time in a decade and has pledged to change the military draft law to restore greater parity.
The bill will now be sent to parliament for approval, a process that will take at least several weeks. While the government has sufficient votes for its passage, it is strongly opposed by two religious parties outside the ruling coalition.
Some members of the government have said the bill should have also included mandatory community service for Israeli Arabs, who are exempted from military duty for security reasons. Israel Arab parties oppose any change in the current law, saying it is politically inappropriate.
“I attach great importance to Israeli Arabs sharing the national burden, and this proposal makes reference to the subject,” Netanyahu said today, “but in my view it is still not complete.”
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