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Liberman clashes with religious coalition partners over ultra-orthodox draft law

Un Juif ultraorthodoxe voyage dans le tramway à Jérusalem, le 19 août 2011.
Ultra-orthodox communities in Israel have always refused army draft, sparking backlash from seculars

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who is also leader of nationalist party "The Jewish Home", slammed ultra-orthodox government coalition parties for a new law on exempting ultra-Orthodox students from draft into the army.

"There is only one thing that counts, namely the Israeli Defense Forces and the security of the citizens of the State of Israel,” Liberman said. “As a member of the coalition, Yisrael Beytenu is prepared to compromise on many issues, but not on this one,” he concluded. 

Liberman said he is ready to counter the new law with “strong resistance,” adding on social networks that he only supports "legislation drafted by the team established by the Defense Ministry.”

The new bill is however strongly supported by all religious partners to the Likud-led coaltion, who are able to condition their support to the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on concessions on issues of concern.

Moshe Gafni, an MK from "United Torah Judaism", threatened to take action against laws supported by Liberman's Yisrael Beytenu in Parliament, was he to oppose the new draft law as he promises.

“We won’t support your bizarre laws anymore,” he said.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has previously claimed that all young people should enlist in the army or national service.

After the country's highest court enraged ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties last autumn by striking down a policy that effectively exempted religious seminary students from the national mandatory draft, Liberman insisted it was right.

"Anyone who reaches the age of 18 must enlist," Liberman said at the time. "We are not fighting against the ultra-Orthodox or against the Supreme Court. We are attempting to approach the problem according to common sense."

The Supreme Court ruling was welcomed by Yair Lapid, chairman of the centrist Yesh Atid party and one of the most prominent lawmakers outside of the government coalition. Lapid has long supported the end of ultra-orthodox exemption from the army. 

"Today we begin turning the rudder of the Israeli ship toward sanity and values," he said after the ruling.

"This is why we got into politics. Enlistment for all, work for all. Benjamin Netanyahu can’t keep on being evasive. Enlistment in the IDF is for everyone. Everyone. Not just for suckers who don't have a party sitting in his coalition."

Members of the ultra-Orthodox community, who represent about 10 percent of the Israeli population and live in compliance with a strict interpretation of Jewish laws, have been exempt from service since the founding of the state.

But their draft exemption has long remained a controversial issue in Israel, and the government has made efforts to compel ultra-Orthodox Jews to either serve in the military or perform national civilian service.



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