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Israel Parliament votes law on recruiting ultra-Orthodox into the armed forces

Israel’s Parliament advanced a controversial law on the recruitment of ultra-Orthodox religious students into the Armed Forces, amid scenes of fury in the Knesset on Monday, while families of some of the Gaza hostages demanded further action to bring them back home.

A day after centrist former general Benny Gantz left the government in a dispute over the strategic objectives of the Gaza war, the vote and clashes highlighted the volatile mix of forces involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, now each increasingly dependent on its far-right allies.

The draft bill, which still needs to undergo additional votes and committee hearings after Monday night’s vote, provides for the gradual entry into the Army of some ultra-Orthodox Jews who have traditionally resisted serving in the armed forces.

Although it was originally introduced by Gantz in 2022 during the previous administration, he now opposes the measure, which he says is inadequate for the new personnel demands facing the Armed Forces.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, the last of a group of former generals left after the departure of Gantz and his ally, former army chief Gadi Eisenkot, broke ranks and voted against the bill.

On the other hand, the religious parties in the coalition, which were strongly opposed to a general expansion of conscription, gave their support, with the aim of inserting changes in the review phase.

Although the proposal is for more ultra-Orthodox people in the Armed Forces, their numbers would be restricted and the bill would allow some alternatives to military service.

“We have a great opportunity that should not be missed. The ultra-Orthodox public cannot be cornered,” Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, leader of one of the pro-settlement parties in the coalition, said in a statement.

The question of lifting some of the restrictions on recruiting ultra-Orthodox men into the armed forces has been a contentious issue for decades in a country where broad military service is seen as one of the pillars of its security.

Resented by many secular Israelis, the issue has become more sensitive than ever since the start of the war in Gaza, in which more than 600 Israeli soldiers were killed.

“There are those who supported it then and oppose it now because they see it as wrong for Israel, and there are those who opposed it then and will support it now because they see an opportunity to change it,” said Assaf Shapira, head of the reform program policy from the Israel Democracy Institute, to Reuters.

As Parliament prepared to vote on the bill, there was an exchange of accusations at a Finance Committee meeting, where members of some of the hostage families approached Smotrich and demanded that the government do more to bring those captured home. .

Inbal Tzach, whose cousin Tal Shoham was one of 253 Israeli and foreign hostages kidnapped by Hamas gunmen as they attacked communities near Gaza on Oct. 7, said ministers like Smotrich needed to do everything they could to bring the remaining 120 hostages from return.

Smotrich, who has ruled out any deal with Hamas and opposed proposals for a ceasefire agreement that would bring the hostages back in an exchange for Palestinian prisoners, dismissed the families’ campaign as cynical.

“I will not put the State of Israel and its people at risk,” he said. “I will not stop the war just before the destruction of Hamas, because that is an existential danger for Israel.”

Source: CNN Brasil

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