Israel extends military exemption for ultra-Orthodox Jews

The 2014 law was seen by many Israelis as amending the historic injustice of an exemption handed to the ultra- Orthodox in 1948, when Israel was created.

PTI| Last Updated: Nov 25, 2015, 05:37 AM IST

Jerusalem: Israeli lawmakers passed a law extending to six years the long-existing automatic exemption from conscription given by the Jewish state to ultra-Orthodox men, the parliament has said.

The legislation, which was approved by a vote of 49-36 out of the Knesset's 120 lawmakers, replaces a 2014 law that would have ended the exemption by 2017.

The law, which enables a further three-year "adjustment period" beyond the six, is a victory to the ultra-Orthodox parties in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition.

The 2014 legislation stipulating military or civilian service to ultra-Orthodox men was passed at the insistence of then finance minister Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party was a central component of Netanyahu's government at the time.

Yesh Atid, however, remained outside of the government following snap elections later that year, enabling the ultra-Orthodox parties to condition their membership in the new coalition on revoking the law.

The 2014 law was seen by many Israelis as amending the historic injustice of an exemption handed to the ultra- Orthodox in 1948, when Israel was created.

At that time they were a small segment of society.

The ultra-Orthodox have since swelled to make up roughly 10 per cent of Israel's population of just over eight million, and continues to be the country's fastest-growing community.

They believe their study of Jewish scripts serves Israel no less than military service, and leaders of some of the closed ultra-Orthodox communities fear the effects of integration into general Israeli society via joint military service.

Speaking on behalf of the coalition, lawmaker Tzahi Hanegbi of Netanyahu's ruling Likud party said the 2014 law had evoked "harsh resistance in the ultra-Orthodox community," which the government feared would impair its implementation.

Hanegbi said the new law was a means of advancing the principal of conscription based on "changing the dialogue and cooperating with the ultra-Orthodox."

Lapid filed a petition to the high court against the legislation yesterday.