Netanyahu granted more time to pass law drafting ultra-Orthodox Jews into army

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Israel’s Supreme Court on Sunday extended a deadline for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to pass a law related to military service for ultra-Orthodox Jews, a measure that could potentially provoke early elections.

The court agreed to extend the deadline, which was on Sunday, until January 15, rejecting the government’s request for it to be moved back to the end of March.

Netanyahu’s government has been seeking to have a law passed that could gradually see ultra-Orthodox Jewish students serve in the military like their secular counterparts, as mandated by the Supreme Court.

Ultra-Orthodox parties that form a key part of Netanyahu’s coalition reject such measures and a compromise law given initial approval earlier this year has not been advanced further.

Netanyahu’s government is now in a much more precarious position, left with only a one-seat majority in parliament after defense minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned last month.

The premier says he wants his government to last until the end of its term in November 2019, but tensions surrounding the issue of ultra-Orthodox Jews and the military could derail those plans.

Ultra-Orthodox parties control 13 seats and at least some could withdraw from the government over the issue.

The need for a new bill arose after the Supreme Court in September 2017 struck down a law allowing ultra-Orthodox men to be exempted from military service until 2023.

The court gave parliament a year to pass a new law, before an initial extension pushed that back to December 2.

The issue is part of a decades-old debate over whether young ultra-Orthodox men studying at seminaries should perform mandatory military service like the rest of Israel’s Jewish population.

Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox between 18 and 24 obtain exemptions from military service to study at seminaries.

The compromise law would set targets on proportions of young ultra-Orthodox who would begin serving in the army and establish financial penalties against seminaries that do not meet the goals.

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