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Israeli parliament passes bill to draft ultra-orthodox Jews
Wednesday March 12, 2014 7:55 PM, IANS

A controversial law seeking criminal penalties for ultra-orthodox Jew military draft dodgers was approved Wednesday by Israel's parliament, the Knesset.

The bill received 65 votes in favour and one vote against it, Xinhua reported.

Members of the opposition did not attend the vote since they are boycotting the discussions and votes on three controversial bills this week over what they dubbed the coalition's "political brutality."

The Equal Service Bill sets the parameters for drafting ultra-orthodox Jews who have for years been exempted from military service in order to study in religious seminaries due to the 'Tal Law', which was found unlawful in 2012 by the Supreme Court necessitating new legislation.

According to the bill, 5,200 ultra-orthodox men will be obliged to enlist in the military starting from 2017. Those who will avoid the draft will face criminal sanctions.

The bill has been completely rejected by the ultra-orthodox community, with hundreds of thousands protesting against it in Jerusalem last Sunday.

Although top ministers Sunday signed a document that all members of the coalition would vote in favour of this and two other bills to be put to vote this week, M.K. Yoni Shetbon from the Jewish Home did object to the law.

He said in a statement that he "opposes the draft law" which he called "ill-conceived" and said it came at "the peak of a wave of anti-religious legislation that seeks to dilute the Jewish character of the state of Israel". As a result of his vote, he will be punished by his party and will be revoked from his duties within the faction.

The Yesh Atid party, led by Finance Minster Yair Lapid, pushed to have the ultra-orthodox bill drafted and ran on the ticket of "equalising the burden" of the military service in the January 2013 elections in which it won 19 out of 120 seats in the Knesset.

This is the second out of three laws the coalition brought to the Knesset plenum to approve this week.

On Tuesday, the Knesset authorised with 67 votes in favour and no votes against (since the opposition also boycotted that discussion) on the governance bill, which consolidates the government's power over the Knesset and raises the electoral threshold to 3.25 percent. It also reduced the Knesset's power to overthrow the government.

On Sunday, opposition leaders announced they would not take part in any of the discussions or votes saying they were fighting to keep democracy intact.

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