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Compromise on Army Exemption Bill

The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee is scheduled to approve a compromise draft of a bill exempting religious women from military conscription. The bill would then be sent to the full Knesset for final approval.

The compromise was reached last night following hectic telephone consultations between Premier Menachem Begin and leaders of Agudath Israel and Key figures of Aguda’s Council of Sages. The ultra-Orthodox Aguda had demanded, as part of its conditions for joining Begin’s coalition government, that women who declare that they are religious be automatically exempted from the draft.

Under the compromise, a woman must also declare that she does not travel on the Shabbat and observes kashrut. The new bill does not exempt non-religious women from observant homes. They will still have to appear before an exemption committee but now there will be an appeals committee if they are rejected by the first committee.

The compromise bill was first proposed by Education Minister Zevulun Hammer of the National Religious Party in the wake of the public outcry against the automatic exemptions. Aguda leaders said the compromise met 99 percent of their demands. Aguda MK Menachem Porush said once the bill is approved the next step for his party is to work for the abolishment of military service for all women.

The compromise bill is expected to get the vote of most of the coalition members including Likud, the NRP and both Aguda factions. This would give the government a majority of 62 votes. It is not Known how the Democratic Movement for Change (DMC) with its 15 votes will act, although there are some party members urging the DMC to leave the government.

Meanwhile, Hannah Mandel, leader of a protest movement of high school graduates who are soon to be drafted, criticized Begin for the compromise and urged the Knesset to reject the bill. “How can the government ignore our protest and take into consideration only one extremist religious party of only four Knesseters?” she asked. She said the bill encouraged young women to lie to get out of military service.

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