Knesset Debates Draft Exemption Bill Approved by Knesset Unit by 13-12 Vote

The Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee approved yesterday the controversial bill on the exemption of religious young women from military service by a narrow margin of 13-12. The measure was the subject of a marathon session today in the full Knesset. The prolonged and bitter debate was expected to continue into the early hours of Thursday morning.

The Likud, National Religious Party and Aguda Israel managed to defeat by one vote all of the 58 amendments proposed by the Labor Alignment and the Democratic Movement for Change (DMC). The DMC, though a member of the Likudled coalition, is permitted under their coalition agreement to vote as it pleases on religious issues. The proposed bill exempts young women from military service if they declare that they eat only kosher food and do not travel on the Sabbath.

The woman’s word is sufficient and she will no longer be required to submit to an examination by a screening committee to certify that she is religiously observant. The new measure will also exempt young women who can prove to a committee that they live in an Orthodox home even though they do not personally observe the Sabbath and the kashrut laws.

The Aguda Israel had originally demanded blanket exemption for any woman who simply declared that she was religious. But the storm of opposition that arose, within and outside of coalition ranks, led to some modifications which the ultra-Orthodox Aguda finally accepted.

SERIES OF AMENDMENTS DEBATED

The amendments presented by the Labor Alignment and the DMC were taken up by the Knesset today The Alignment has already asked for and will probably get a secret ballot. One of the amendments would oblige religious women to perform alternative forms of national service for a period of time equivalent to military services Another would withdraw exemption from women who leave their Orthodox homes within two years after exemption was granted. A private members bill by Alignment MK Chaika Grossman of Mapam would have the government activate the compulsory national service law of 1953 for religious girls excused from military service. The law is frozen for coalition reasons.

The Aguda, encouraged by its success, wants to abolish the draft for all women, which it regards as sinful. MK Kalman Kahane of the Poalei Agudat Israel has proposed a private bill calling for replacement of the draft by a volunteer army. Feminist groups, among others all over the country, contend that the exemption of religious women from any form of national service while all other women must serve, constitutes gross discrimination and is undemocratic.

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