Israeli MPs pass law to conscript ultra-Orthodox Jews

Photo: Israeli MPs pass law to conscript ultra-Orthodox Jews  / Arab-Israel Relations

Israeli MPs on Wednesday voted through a law which will compel ultra-Orthodox Jews to either serve in the military or perform civilian service Al Arabia reported.

The bill was voted through by 65 to 1 in a poll broadcast on Israel's parliamentary television channel.

The lone dissenting vote was cast by an MP from the far-right Jewish Home who broke coalition discipline to oppose the law.

Opposition parties within the 120-seat parliament had earlier announced they would not participate in the vote.

The cabinet last year agreed to end a practice under which tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox were exempted from military service if they were in full-time study at a Jewish seminary, or yeshiva.

The new legislation stipulates that ultra-Orthodox men must either join the army or perform civilian service, in a law which will go into force in 2017.

The law also includes a clause stipulating sanctions against draft dodgers -- including imprisonment -- in a move which has enraged the ultra-Orthodox leadership who said it would be tantamount to jailing people for practicing their faith.

Military service is compulsory in Israel, with men serving three years and women two.

Earlier this month, more than 300,000 ultra-Orthodox took to the streets of Jerusalem in a mass prayer vigil to protest against the impending legislation.

The new law is 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.

Because of their high birth rate, the ultra-Orthodox community has since swelled to make up roughly 10 percent of the country's population of just over eight million, and continues to be the fastest-growing sector in Israel.

Later on Wednesday, parliament also passed a bill mandating that in a future peace agreement any proposal to cede land over which Israel claims sovereignty would be subject to a referendum.

While it would cover mainly Arab east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights -- which Israel has annexed -- it does not apply to land in the West Bank, which is not annexed.

It strengthens previous legislation which said a plebiscite was not mandatory if the territorial concession was supported by two-thirds of the legislature's 120 MPs.

It is seen as a gesture to rightwing ministers apprehensive of concessions that could be demanded of Israel in peace talks with the Palestinians.

A parliamentary statement said that the new bill was approved by 68 votes to none against, after opposition members also boycotted that session.

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