Israeli PM in favour of draft for all

Israel’s ruling Likud party has voted in favour of making military or social service compulsory for all Israelis, including for normally exempt ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arab citizens.

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Exemptions from military service, mainly for ultra-Orthodox religious seminary students, have long angered many Israelis who did serve in the army and feel they carry the “burden” alone.

The debate over universal service is a major political issue in Israel, and the passions it raised had threatened a crisis in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s two-month-old national unity coalition.

Likud’s 27 MPs voted unanimously to accept the main recommendations of a committee charged with coming up with a new universal draft law. The current law is due to expire in August.

“After 64 years during which the issue has not been dealt with we are facing a historic move,” Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday, his office said.

Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz of the centrist Kadima party, who joined the government in May, had threatened to leave if the recommendations were not adopted.

A Likud team is to negotiate the details of the universal service bill in the coming week.

Up to 30,000 Israelis demonstrated in Tel Aviv late Saturday in favour of making military or social service compulsory for all.

There have also been calls for mandatory national service for Israel’s Arab citizens, who serve mainly on a voluntary basis.

Ultra-Orthodox politicians have intimated they will quit the coalition if religious seminary students must serve.

The issue has simmered in Israel for years.

When the country’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, agreed to allow the ultra-Orthodox to avoid military service in favour of studying Jewish law, the number receiving such an exemption stood at 400 but with the ultra-Orthodox population growing the number of exemptions has reached tens of thousands.

Many non-Orthodox Israelis regard this as a social injustice.

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