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Military service for ultra-Orthodox Jews hinders coalition discussions

February 17, 2014 at 1:50 am

A media report in Israel claims that the issue of military service for ultra-Orthodox Jews is hindering discussions over the formation of a new coalition government. According to Israel Radio, the claim was made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beiteinu bloc, the biggest group in the Knesset.

“The large gaps in these discussions,” said Likud-Beiteinu’s David Shamron, “are represented in the issue of recruiting the ultra-Orthodox into the army.”

The spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, Rabbi Obadiah Yusef, threatened before the election to leave Israel if the so-called Haredim are called up for compulsory national service. He said that they will be obliged to leave the country as well.

The surprise package in the election, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party, said in a statement on Wednesday that its leader sees Torah study as part of the “existential fabric of Israel” and he praised those who devoted themselves to it full time. “However, it is no excuse for not teaching English and mathematics to young children in the ultra-Orthodox community,” said Lapid,  “or for 18-year-olds not serving their country, or for 28-year-olds not entering the workforce.”

Likud sources were quoted by Israel’s Channel 10 TV on Wednesday saying that Netanyahu might try to build a coalition without Yesh Atid and the Jewish Home Party, and depend on the ultra-Orthodox parties instead. This scenario is unlikely, say analysts, because Netanyahu needs some centrists in his government to maintain at least a facade of diversity for politician reasons.

The same news channel said that former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua Party is ready in principle to join the government, with Livni hoping to be given some responsibility for Palestinian-Israeli contacts. None of the other Israeli media or sources from Livni’s party were able to confirm or deny the report.