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Israel elections may be imminent, as Ultra-Orthodox conscription threatens coalition

March 5, 2018 at 1:40 pm

Ultra Orthodox Jewish people stage a protest against compulsory military service in Jerusalem on 218 March, 2017 (Gil Cohen Magen – Anadolu Agency )

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing the prospect of the imminent collapse of his ruling coalition, triggering early elections, over a row about ultra-Orthodox military conscription.

The United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party is vowing to withhold support for the new budget unless new legislation isn’t passed allowing for ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students to be exempt from the draft.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, meanwhile, says he will withdraw his Kulanu faction from the coalition if the budget is not passed, as planned, this month. Such a move would trigger an election.

Netanyahu is currently in Washington D.C., and left for the US without any sign that the latest crisis will be resolved.

Read: Ultra-Orthodox Jews threaten Netanyahu over compulsory conscription bill

In September 2017, Israel’s Supreme Court “struck down a law that exempted Haredi yeshiva students from the draft”, Haaretz explained. “The court ruled that the law was discriminatory and set a one-year deadline for an alternative to be put in place.”

The 2014 law was “designed to increase the number of Haredim drafted and provided a deferment to age 26, when a full exemption would have been granted.”

The law also provided for a transition period until June 2017, “after which the number of Haredi draftees would have risen to meet conscription targets”. That transition period was subsequently extended to 2020, “and criminal sanctions in the initial law were repealed”.

As reported by Globes, while Kahlon is “determined to pass the state budget in the Knesset by March 15”, for now “the chances of this look slim”. With Netanyahu in the US this week, the site added, “the general feeling is that no-one is in charge”.

On Sunday, as he departed to the US, Netanyahu claimed: “We’re not going to early elections”.

“There is no reason for this to happen, and with goodwill, it won’t. I have goodwill, and I hope our [coalition] partners do as well.”

Read: Netanyahu era has ended, prepare for elections says the opposition

Meanwhile, in a new poll conducted on behalf of Israel’s Channel 10, if elections were held today, Likud would again emerge the biggest party, with 29 seats.

Following Likud was Yesh Atid, on 24 seats, with Zionist Camp and Joint List both on 12 seats. Jewish Home would win ten seats, Meretz eight, Kulanu and Yisrael Beiteinu would each win seven seats, United Torah Judaism six and Shas five.

Overall, the current coalition would emerge with 64 seats in the 120-member Knesset.