Netanyahu govt on shaky legs over ultra-orthodox draft bill

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that his government is at risk of collapsing over a bill that would extend the exemption of the ultra-orthodox community from military service, as several members of the coalition are embroiled in a dispute over the matter. 

The draft bill is set to be put to the vote in the Israeli cabinet on 26 March.

On 25 March, Hebrew media reported that Netanyahu would “not renege on passing the ultra-Orthodox draft bill and that without the bill, the government would not remain in place.” On Monday, the prime minister raised the age at which ultra-orthodox are exempted from 26 to 35. 

Opposition and Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid called on the same day for Benny Gantz, war cabinet member and leader of the National Unity Party, to walk out on the government if the bill is passed.

Gantz said a day earlier, on Sunday, that the bill is a “red line.” 

“The people will not be able to put up with it, the Knesset will not be able to vote for it, and my colleagues and I will not be able to be members of the emergency government if such legislation passes the Knesset,” Gantz said. 

“I call on the Likud ministers and members of the Knesset – make your voices heard,” he added, saying the legislation represents a “serious failure of values” that threaten to cause deep divisions in Israeli society. 

Members of Netanyahu’s party, the Likud, have recently said that the exemptions no longer make sense. 

Dispute over the bill has resulted in deep divisions within the Israeli government, with many, including war minister Yoav Gallant, warning that exemption of the ultra-orthodox threatens to accelerate the severe manpower crisis the army is facing.

Gallant has continued to assert that he will not support any legislation unless all members of the government can reach a consensus.

“This coming Tuesday, a proposal for a decision on the recruitment issue will be brought to the government by the prime minister, on his initiative. My position has not changed. I will not be a party to any proposal that isn’t agreed upon by all coalition factions – and under my leadership, the security system will not submit it for legislation,” he said. 

“There is still time to come together and form a joint proposal,” he added. 

A law authorizing ultra-orthodox exemption from the army expired in June last year. Next week, the temporary regulation that extended it will also expire. 

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, whose extreme far-right and religious parties have majority government representation, oppose ending ultra-orthodox exemptions. 

Netanyahu’s warning over the potential collapse of the government comes as Gallant is set to travel to Washington to discuss war efforts. This will be the first official visit by an Israeli official to the US since Gantz went earlier this month. Netanyahu has yet to receive an invite to Washington. 

Source: The Cradle

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