Israeli Bill on Ultra-Orthodox Army Service Likely to Win Knesset Approval

Published July 3rd, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

An Israeli bill based on the Tal Commission report on army service deferrals for ultra-Orthodox students is likely to win a majority on the first reading when the Knesset votes today. Its size will depend on two major unknowns - the Arab parties and the Likud, said Haaretz Monday. 

Senior figures in One Israel who are close to Prime Minister Ehud Barak were quoted as saying late Sunday they expect the bill to pass Monday or Tuesday. If it does not "then there is no government." 

These sources told the Israeli daily that Shas has made it clear that if the bill is defeated it will leave the government sooner or later. The senior figures said "Barak knows the bill's passage will be a serious blow to his status and image.  

However, if the bill does not go through, he will lose threefold - "trying to get the bill passed in the first place, failing in the effort to do so, and losing the government and going into elections in conditions most inconvenient for him," the sources said. 

The paper said Barak was scathingly critical Sunday evening of MKs from One Israel who say they intend to vote against the bill or abstain. Speaking at a meeting he convened in his office in Jerusalem with ministers Yossi Beilin and Haim Ramon and coalition chairman Ofir Pines-Paz, along with several advisers, Barak said he would not put up with such behavior by the nine or so MKs from his faction who are against the bill. Barak rejected a request by Pines-Paz to allow One Israel MKs to vote according to conscience. 

Meanwhile Democratic Choice MK Roman Bronfman's announcement that he will ask for the vote to be one of no confidence - in which case it will take place next week - has embarrassed the Meretz and National Religious Party factions who are in the coalition but intend to vote against the bill, added the daily. 

Earlier Sunday the cabinet approved the Tal Commission recommendations by a vote of 12 to 2 (Interior Minister Natan Sharansky and Environment Minister Dalia Itzik). Following a five-hour discussion, the cabinet also set up a committee of eight ministers, headed by Science Minister Matan Vilnai, to look into drafting legislation to guarantee the rights and benefits due to soldiers and reservists as a counterweight to deferring service for yeshiva students. 

However, the paper said that Finance Minister Avraham Shochat commented that this would add about NIS 1.5 billion to the budget. "I won't pay it, let the Defense Ministry pay it," he said. 

Itzik attacked Barak's statement that the commission's recommendations represented a "new social pact" and a "breakthrough." She said the recommendations were discriminatory and enshrining them in law would turn the IDF, always "the people's army," into a "hired army." – Albawaba.com 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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