Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's fractious coalition faced a split again Sunday over controversial proposals for military service for Orthodox Jews, whose exemption from the call-up provokes widespread irritation.
Barak's cabinet was set to discuss a compromise plan drawn up by a senior judge at Barak's behest has ended up satisfying no one.
Four of the members of the coalition -- the National Religious Party, the Center Party, the secular Meretz and the Russian immigrant Israel B'Alia -- have warned, for different reasons, that they will vote against it on first reading Monday.
The powerful ultra-Orthodox Shas party, for its part, has once again wielded the threat of withdrawing its support from the coalition if the measure does not go through.
The two leading parties, Barak's One Israel and the opposition Likud, have said they are considering allowing their members of parliament a free vote on the question.
Barak, a former chief of the general staff, made military conscription for the Orthodox a plank of his campaign platform in the run-up to the elections which he won in May last year.
But the patchwork nature of the coalition he formed obliged him to trim his sails and call on former Supreme Court judge Zvi Tal to come up with a solution to the problem.
Israel's supreme court has ruled illegal the blanket exemption from military service accorded to the Orthodox under an agreement dating back nearly 50 years between the government of the day and the strict Jewish community.
At the time the accord concerned only a few hundred potential recruits, but today it means some 3,000 young men, or more than eight percent of conscripts, can claim exemption annually on the grounds that they are studying in religious Talmudical colleges.
The Tal commission proposes that Orthodox students be granted a reprieve from the call-up until the age of 23. In the year thereafter, they may then leave to seek work or undergo professional training.
At the end of that year they can return to their studies, and continue to avoid conscription, but if they want to take up a full time job they will first have to do either military service in special units or some form of civil community service.
At present, students are forbidden to leave their colleges until the age of 41, which effectively makes it impossible for them to find a job.
For non-Orthodox Israelis, men have to serve three years in the armed forces and women 19 months. Up to the age of 49 men also have to return for refresher training in the reserves for one month every year - OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)