Israel ministers okay draft law on ultra-Orthodox

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The Israeli government on Sunday approved a draft law which will spell the end of a system which has seen tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox exempt from military service.

The draft bill, which passed in the cabinet and later in the day in the ministerial committee for legislation, still faces a series of votes in parliament before becoming law.

It stipulates that ultra-Orthodox Jewish men must either join the army or perform civilian service, and if passed it will be implemented over the next four years.

The new law seeks to amend the current situation in which ultra-Orthodox men receive exemptions if they are studying in religious seminaries.

Military service is compulsory in Israel, with men serving three years and women two.

But tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox currently avoid army service by virtue of being enrolled in yeshivas or seminaries.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews represent roughly 10 percent of Israel's population of just over eight million.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the move, which beyond bringing ultra-Orthodox men into military and civilian service would "integrate them into the labour force".

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said the law was "the only way to change an unfair reality which had consolidated over 65 years" since the state's inception in 1948.

Expanding the draft is vehemently opposed by the ultra-Orthodox parties, but the two parties currently representing that public -- Shas and United Torah Judaism -- remain outside Netanyahu's coalition formed earlier this year.

Four cabinet members belonging to Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu faction, which joined forces with Netanyahu's Likud prior to the latest elections, abstained from the vote since it did not address the issue of Arab Israelis, who are largely exempted from the draft.