The leader of Israel’s Kadima party, the biggest in parliament, called for withdrawing from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition after failing to agree on legislation for drafting ultra-Orthodox men into the army.
A party vote on Kadima’s pull-out later today comes about two months after its leader, Shaul Mofaz, struck a surprise deal with Netanyahu to join forces and create the biggest government alliance in 20 years with 94 seats in the 120-member Knesset. Netanyahu, chairman of the Likud party, still commands a majority in parliament without Kadima’s 28 seats.
“There’s no escape from leaving the coalition,” Mofaz told Kadima members in remarks broadcast on Israel Radio from party headquarters in Petach Tikva, Israel.
Kadima joined Netanyahu’s coalition on May 8 after the prime minister promised to change government policy that allows ultra-Orthodox men to defer mandatory military service as long as they are engaged in full-time religious studies. Broadening the coalition nullified plans to hold early national elections in September, which Netanyahu had called amid strains between his allied parties.
Netanyahu said last week that changes to drafting the ultra-Orthodox must be made gradually to avoid exacerbating tensions. He has been in negotiations with Mofaz since to try to come up with a compromise.
Working out a national service policy for the ultra-Orthodox, or haredim as they are called in Israel, would enable more of them to enter the workforce. The ultra-Orthodox may be subject to the draft if they leave seminary studies to look for work.
About 45 percent of ultra-Orthodox men work, compared with about 80 percent of other Jewish males in Israel, according to the Bank of Israel. While the ultra-Orthodox make up about 8 percent to 10 percent of the population, they will represent 17 percent of working-age Israelis in 20 years because of their high birthrate, according to the Bank of Israel.