Saturday, 19 January 2013

Ultra-Orthodox leader warns of ‘civil war’ over changes to Israeli military draft exemptions

In an step that could intensify a major rift among Israelis, the defence minister on Tuesday ordered the army to prepare for a universal draft of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men.

Many in the insular and rapidly growing community say they would rather go to jail than comply with an end to the decades-long draft exemptions that have caused increasing outrage in the country.

Ehud Barak gave defence officials a month to craft a plan to put the new draft procedure into practice, trying to buy time in a last-ditch effort to find an agreed solution. His order came just hours before the expiration of a law that has granted tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews exemptions from military duty and followed a Supreme Court ruling against extending that arrangement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israel’s Channel 2 TV Tuesday night that the army would begin widening its list of recruits immediately.

“Starting tomorrow, there’s a new law about equal service. The Israeli military will decide whom to draft, how many to draft — and it will draft,” Netanyahu pledged.

Ultra-Orthodox leader Meir Porush, a former lawmaker, said drafting his people would unleash a “civil war.” He said the military neither needed nor wanted to be flooded with devoutly religious conscripts.

“The Israeli military is not ready, won’t be ready and doesn’t want to be ready” to draft ultra-Orthodox Jews, Porush said. Privately, some defence officials agreed.

What began 60 years ago as exemptions for a few hundred top rabbinical students to symbolically rebuild the great Jewish houses of learning obliterated in the Nazi Holocaust of World War II has mushroomed – partly due to a very high birthrate — into get-out-of-the-army cards for 60,000 able-bodied Israeli adult men. Most other Jews are drafted into the military at age 18, with men serving three years and then decades of yearly reserve duty, and women serving about two years.

http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/07/31/ultra-orthodox-leader-warns-of-civil-war-over-changes-to-israeli-military-draft-exemptions/

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