Israeli government approves ultra-Orthodox conscription

Israeli government approves ultra-Orthodox conscription

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet approved Sunday a draft bill that would enlist more ultra-Orthodox Jews into the military, dpa reported.

Fourteen ministers voted in favour of the legislation, which now has to pass three readings in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, before becoming law. Four ministers abstained and none voted against.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid called it "a historic day."

"After 65 years, we finally end this distortion. We are all very excited," he told reporters.

The vast majority of ultra-Orthodox Jews have been exempt from military service since Israel's founding in 1948, much to the anger of many secular Jews.

Lapid made the issue of "equal sharing of the burden" a focal point of his campaigning ahead of January elections, which saw his newly founded centrist Yesh Atid party emerge as the second largest in the Knesset.

The bill requires ultra-Orthodox Jews to enlist by the age of 21, with the exception of some 1,800 a year who can continue studying the Torah instead.

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers spoke of a "sad day" for Judaism. Many strictly religious Jews believe that by studying the Torah and serving God they are defending Israelis.

But others criticize the bill for not going far enough in upholding social equality, as secular Israelis must enlist at the age of 18 with few exceptions.

"We will make the change gradually, while taking into consideration the special needs of the ultra-Orthodox public," Netanyahu said.

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