New, long-term, thread, solely for news and articles related to Internal Israeli Matters with no, or limited, external aspects.................
Shimon Peres condemns ultra-orthodox extremists as tensions escalate
Israel's president says minority threaten national values as TV news shows sobbing 8-year-old recounting ordeal
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 27 December 2011 19.39 GMT
Naama Margolese, 8, with her mother Hadassa in their home in Beit Shemesh. Her story on Israeli television news drew fresh attention to the tensions between ultra-orthodox extremists and the rest of the population. Photograph: Oded Balilty/AP
Haredi = Israel's own ultra-Fascists............
When you get Religious Extremists attacking Orthodox Jews for being female, then the World is becoming out-of-kilter. The current Government's lacklustre and weak responses to these nut-jobs only compounds the problem.
Israel's president urged "the entire nation" to support the battle "to save the majority from the hands of a small minority" on Tuesday, amid rising tensions between the country's secular and religious Jews on one side and extremist ultra-orthodox groups on the other.
"We are fighting for the soul of the nation and the essence of the state," Shimon Peres said as thousands of Israelis gathered for a protest following an attack on an eight-year-old girl for dressing "immodestly".
Tuesday's demonstration in the town of Beit Shemesh took place close to a school at which girls as young as six have been targeted by zealous ultra-orthodox, or Haredi, men for dressing in regulation knee-length skirts and tops with sleeves to at least the elbow.
Haredi protesters have spat and shouted "whore" and "Nazi" at the pupils and their mothers. Earlier this week, Israeli television news broadcast footage of Naama Margolese, eight, sobbing as she described being abused and spat at on the street by Haredi men. The girl comes from an orthodox Jewish family and attends Orot girls school, which serves religious Jewish families in the area.
Two days of rioting and attacks on television crews by zealous Haredi men in Beit Shemesh followed the broadcast.
Beit Shemesh has become a focal point of tensions between extremist Haredi groups, whose numbers in the city are increasing, and its majority religious-nationalist population. The Haredim are opposed to the location of the girls' school next to an ultra-orthodox enclave.
But there has been mounting concern in recent months over broader demands by extremist Haredim to remove images of women from advertising billboards in Jerusalem, enforce gender segregation on public transport, in shops and medical centres, and ban women soldiers from taking part in singing and dancing events organised by the army.
Last week a woman bus passenger made headlines when she refused to comply with a demand from a Haredi man on the bus that she move to the rear. A policeman called by the driver also asked the woman to move. When she continued to refuse, the Haredi man disembarked.
Despite an Israeli court ruling outlawing enforced segregation on buses earlier this year, "voluntary segregation" is permitted. Women mainly sit at the back and men mainly at the front on some routes in Jerusalem.
Peres told reporters at his official residence that Tuesday's protest against ultra-orthodox extremism was "a test in which the entire nation will have to mobilise to rescue the majority from the claws of a small minority that is chipping away at our most hallowed values".
He added: "No person has the right to threaten a girl, a woman or any person in any way. They are not the lords of this land."
His comments followed similar criticism of extremist ultra-orthodox groups by the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, earlier this week. He told cabinet colleagues there was no place for harassment or sex discrimination in Israel's "democratic, Western, liberal state".
The police, he said, would arrest people who "spit, harass or raise a hand". But, Netanyahu added, this was a social issue, not just a legal one, and required action by public figures and religious leaders. The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, also criticised gender segregation and the exclusion of women from the public sphere earlier this month, saying it was reminiscent of extremist regimes.
The Haredim in Israel are about 10% of the population, but form a far higher proportion in cities such as Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh.
Extremist protesters are a small minority within the ultra-orthodox community and many Haredi leaders have spoken out against their views and actions. Peres acknowledged that most Haredim did not support the extremists. "The ultra-orthodox public in Israel as a whole opposes these phenomena and condemns them," he said. "It is important that they continue to do so and to speak in a loud and clear voice."
Religious limits on women spur controversy in Israel
By Joel Greenberg, Wednesday, December 28, 9:12 AM
BEIT SHEMESH, Israel — A sign outside a row of synagogues directing women to walk on the other side of the street has turned this town near Jerusalem into a front line of a raging national debate about the imposition of strict social codes by ultra-Orthodox zealots.
A community of 86,000 about a half-hour’s drive from Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh has a growing ultra-Orthodox population. The town has become a cauldron of tension in recent days, with crowds of black-cloaked men assaulting television crews and facing off with police, pelting them with rocks and eggs.
The trigger for the violence was a wave of Israeli media reports about ultra-Orthodox Jews in the town who had put up the controversial sign and hounded local religious schoolgirls, spitting and hurling abuse at them for what they deemed insufficiently modest dress.
The plight of one frightened girl, 8-year-old Naama Margolese, was highlighted Friday in a prime-time television report, along with the sign ordering sidewalk segregation, fueling the debate in Israel over attempts to limit the public visibility of women — a growing trend that has generated an angry backlash.
On Tuesday night, thousands of Israelis gathered in Beit Shemesh to protest religious coercion and the attempts to sideline women. Some held up signs that said: “Exclusion of women is my red line.”
In broadcast remarks hours earlier, President Shimon Peres urged people to attend the rally. “We are fighting for the soul of the nation and the essence of the state,” he said.
The sign in question, posted in front of three synagogues in a strictly religious section of Beit Shemesh, said, “Women are requested to move to the sidewalk across the street, not to pass near the synagogues, and certainly not to loiter on this sidewalk, which serves the synagogue-goers.” An arrow pointed the way to the other side of the street.
After the media reports and a directive announced Sunday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the sign was removed by city workers, but it was promptly replaced by activists with cardboard placards and a large banner that carried a similar message in bold red letters.
The prohibition on passage of women near the synagogues stems from a strict interpretation of religious restrictions on women mixing with men. Women enter the synagogues through separate doors and pray in separate sections.
When crowds of male worshipers emerge from the synagogues onto the sidewalk, it would be improper for women to walk among them, people living nearby said. “It’s uncomfortable and undignified,” said one woman, who added that she voluntarily crossed the street to avoid such mingling.
The developments in Beit Shemesh have been denounced by Israeli cabinet ministers, rights advocates and moderate Orthodox leaders, who described them as a perversion of Jewish law and an assault on civil rights, particularly the rights of women.
“Israel is a democratic, Western, liberal state,” Netanyahu said at the weekly meeting of his cabinet Sunday. “In a Western liberal democracy, public space is open and safe for all — men and women alike — and has no room for any harassment or discrimination.”
Haim Amsalem, an independent ultra-Orthodox legislator, visited Naama’s family Monday and said the harassment that she and other girls faced and the sidewalk segregation “have no place in sane and moderate Judaism.”
‘A slippery slope’
The events in Beit Shemesh are seen by many Israelis as symptomatic of a growing encroachment of religious zealotry into the public sphere.
In Jerusalem, activists have organized to fight the exclusion of women’s images from advertising billboards in the city after signs showing women were defaced and damaged by ultra-Orthodox extremists.
A young woman attracted national attention this month when she refused to give up her seat in the front of an inter-city bus when passengers boarding in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood demanded she move to the back. Despite an Israeli Supreme Court ruling that banned segregation on public buses, ultra-Orthodox women sit in the rear of buses serving their communities, with men in the front.
A group of religious army cadets was dismissed from an officers training course in September after it walked out of a singing performance by female soldiers, citing a religious prohibition against hearing women sing. Israel’s chief rabbis have pressed the army to exempt observant soldiers who wish to avoid such performances, but the army chief of staff said Tuesday that their attendance will continue to be required in official military ceremonies.
Uri Regev, a Reform rabbi who is president of Hiddush, a nonprofit group that advocates for religious freedom in Israel, said the creeping restrictions were “a slippery slope” that could lead to more bans imposed under ultra-Orthodox pressure.
“The question is: What kind of a country is Israel going to be, and will it be governed by the rule of law?” he said.
In the ultra-Orthodox areas of Beit Shemesh, graffiti on walls exhort women to “dress modestly.” One black-cloaked man who chased a reporter out of a shop Monday told him: “This is Iran,” a reference to the Islamic Republic, where women are required by law to cover their heads and bodies in public.
Walking with her children through a downtown square, Esther, an ultra-Orthodox woman who identified herself only by her first name, said she was baffled by the sudden burst of interest in her community’s way of life.
“Why does it bother them?” she asked, adding that she was more than happy to sit in the back of the bus or cross the street near her neighborhood synagogue to maintain strict separation between the sexes. “It’s not demeaning,” she said. “I feel uncomfortable when men look at me.”
Star of David patches at ultra-Orthodox Jew demonstration causes outrage
Israeli Holocaust survivors and political leaders condemn protesters who also donned concentration camp uniforms
Associated Press in Jerusalem
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 1 January 2012 16.59 GMT
Children from ultra-Orthodox Jewish families wearing the Star of David patch at a demonstration in Jerusalem. Photograph: Bernat Armangue/AP
Israeli Holocaust survivors and political leaders have expressed outrage over a Jerusalem demonstration at which ultra-Orthodox Jews donned Star of David patches and uniforms similar to those the Nazis forced Jews to wear during World War II.
Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered on Saturday night to protest against what they say is a nationwide campaign directed against their lifestyle. for strict separation of the sexes, rejected by mainstream Israelis as religious coercion. Actions such as jeering at girls for dressing immodestly have unleashed a backlash against ultra-Orthodox Jews in general.
Ultra-Orthodox extremists have been under fire for their attempts to ban mixing of the sexes on buses, and other public spaces. In one city, extremists have jeered and spit at girls walking to school, saying they are dressed immodestly. These practices, albeit by a fringe sect, have unleashed a backlash against the ultra-Orthodox in general.
At Saturday's protest, children with traditional sidelocks wore the striped black-and-white uniforms associated with Nazi concentration camps. One child's hands were raised in surrender – mimicking an iconic photo of a terrified Jewish boy in the Warsaw ghetto.
Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial called the use of Nazi imagery "disgraceful," and several other survivors' groups and politicians condemned the acts.
Six million Jews were killed by German Nazis and their collaborators during World War II. About 200,000 aging survivors of the Holocaust live in Israel.
The American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, an umbrella organisation of survivors, expressed its "utter contempt at this disgraceful exploitation" of the Nazi symbols.
"We who survived and witnessed these Nazi crimes are particularly offended that demonstrators so blithely used children in this public outrage. They have insulted the memory of all the Jewish victims, including those who were ultra-Orthodox," the organisation's vice president, Elan Steinberg, said in a statement.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni called on the ultra-Orthodox leadership to condemn the display.
"This is a terrible offence against the memory of the Holocaust victims who were forced, secular and ultra-Orthodox alike, to wear the yellow star in the ghetto on their way to extermination, and there is no demonstration in the world that can justify this."
JERUSALEM - Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu announced Jan. 8 an increase of nearly $700 million in the defense budget, after saying last year that he would cut military spending to finance social reforms.
"We are going to add three million shekels to the defense budget," Netanyahu said at a news conference.
Netanyahu had in October supported the recommendations of a report he commissioned, by respected economist Manuel Trajtenberg, which were intended to address rising frustrations about the cost of living and income disparity in the Jewish state that triggered mass protests last year.
One of the Trajtenberg report's proposals was to cut a defense budget that amounts to around $14 billion, of which $3 billion comes in annual U.S. military aid, to finance a series of social initiatives without increasing the deficit.
"I have reflected on this question, but in view of what has happened in the region, I have reached the conclusion that cutting the defense budget would be a mistake, even a big mistake," Netanyahu said.
"Any sensible person can see what is happening around us. ... All these changes have strategic implications for the national security of the state of Israel, for our ability to face the new challenges and instability," he told a weekly cabinet meeting, according to a statement from his office.
The Israeli army "is the shield of the country, which is why we must increase its means," he added.
The prime minister said that in return for the spending increase, the defense ministry would have to respect the principle of transparency, which would allow the government to monitor the management of the budget.
"In the past, we discovered things late, whereas now we will become aware of them in real time," Netanyahu said.
Israel's cabinet in October approved the recommended economic reforms outlined by the 267-page Trajtenberg report, which covered housing, competitiveness, social services, education and taxation.
Israeli parliament debate turns ugly as politician throws water over colleague
Anastasia Michaeli faces suspension for her outburst after being told to 'shut up' during row over human rights rally
guardian.co.uk, Monday 9 January 2012 23.19 GMT
Ultranationalist Anastasia Michaeli attacks Arab colleague Ghaleb Majadleh in Israeli parliament. Source: YouTube
This is mild to the point of almost being innocuous, take a look at some of the sessions in the Taiwanese and Korean parliaments!
An ultranationalist Israeli parliament member faced possible suspension from the Knesset on Monday for hurling a cup of water at an Arab colleague when he told her to "shut up" during exchanges over school students attending human rights rally.
Ghaleb Majadleh, an Israeli Arab member of the Labour party, had protested at an education panel meeting to reprimand an Arab school principal for letting pupils attend a human rights group rally. "You are inciting against the state," retorted Anastasia Michaeli, a member of the rightwing Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home) party.
When Majadleh told her to "shut up" Michaeli rose from her seat, poured water into a plastic cup and threw it at Majadleh, hitting his face and jacket, before heading for the door.
The outburst was not unusual for Israel's raucous parliament but many see the violent nature of the argument as a sign of rising political tensions, spurred on by speculation that national elections may be held earlier than 2013.
Michaeli later told reporters Majadleh had been rude. "If there are no men in the Israeli Knesset willing to defend women, then I will defend myself, the honour of my party and of the Knesset," she said.
Majadleh, a former cabinet minister and the only Israeli Arab citizen ever to hold such a position, accused Michaeli of provocation and denied insulting her.
Michaeli's party scolded her, issuing a statement that she had been told "no circumstances could justify such behaviour", but also accused Majadleh of provoking her outburst.
Speaker Reuven Rivlin said he would lodge a complaint with the house's ethics committee over Michaeli's action, which he called "an insult to the entire Knesset".
Israeli media said Michaeli could be suspended temporarily from her post. This is the second time she faces censure. She was removed from a debate a year ago after trying to interrupt a speech by another Arab parliamentarian, Haneen Zoabi.
Rivlin said the incident was part of "an atmosphere as though elections are soon to be held". He said there was possibility of further "gimmicks and hijinks for which the Knesset and Israeli democracy are likely to pay the price."
Israel's next parliamentary election is scheduled to be held in 2013, but speculation has been rife that it may be brought forward, following prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu's call for a snap leadership vote of Likud party later this month.
Culture war looms as Israel pledges to end ultra-Orthodox military exemptions
By Karin Brulliard, Saturday, May 12, 2:49 AM
JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dramatically bolstered his ruling coalition this week with a unity deal meant to help him thwart challenges from fringe factions. But Yoel Krois, a man with sidelocks past his shoulders and a record of confronting authorities, says he remains ready for a fight.
From his cramped Jerusalem office, Krois pens broadsides that paper his ultra-Orthodox neighborhood and serve as religious proclamations on issues of the day. One of the newest tells readers to resist a brewing plot to draft ultra-Orthodox Jews into the Israeli military.
(Abir Sultan/AP) - An Israeli soldier from an ultra-Orthodox Jewish unit in the Israeli army holds a gun during a training session in 2005. Military exemptions for ultra-Orthodox religious students have fueled resentment among Israel’s secular majority.
“We will go to prison instead,” said Krois, 39, sitting beneath a photograph of himself defying police as he and fellow activists with an anti-Zionist organization known as Edah Haredit protested the opening of a parking lot on the Jewish Sabbath. “We are protected by God.”
When Netanyahu and the leader of the centrist opposition party Kadima joined forces, they said their first priority would be a law ending widespread military exemptions for full-time religious students. Long-neglected, the issue has spiraled into a public policy nightmare: Not fixing it would perpetuate a system that the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled is unconstitutional. Fixing it could spark a culture war, as Netanyahu suggested when he vowed Thursday to make reforms “without setting public against public.”
Some say it is too late. Resentment against the ultra-Orthodox, known as Haredim, is intense among Israel’s secular majority and a growing number of officials. While the current debate centers on the military - universal conscription is central to Israeli identity - many say the issue is more broadly about spreading the burdens of citizenship to a subsidized, insular group that is expanding in size and influence.
“There is internal turmoil. It’s social, it’s economic, and it goes to the soul of Israel,” said Uri Regev, a Reform rabbi who is president of Hiddush, a religious freedom organization that is critical of ultra-Orthodox military exemptions. “The way of life that the Haredim adopt challenges our stability.”
Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, granted military exemptions to what was then a few hundred Haredi students, in part because it was assumed their lifestyle would fade over time. Today, the ultra-Orthodox comprise one-tenth of Israel’s 7.8 million citizens, and 63,000 received exemptions for religious study in 2010.
In February, Israel’s Supreme Court annulled a decade-old law created to increase ultra-Orthodox participation in the army, saying it had largely failed. Last year, 15 percent of recruitment-age Haredim enlisted, compared to 75 percent in the rest of the Jewish population. The government pledged this week to craft a replacement that also drafts more Arab Israelis, who are not required to serve.
“This issue where some serve and others do not is a moral stain on Israeli society,” said Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz.
The ultra-Orthodox, while a varied group, are resistant to military service, some zealously so. Most believe the Jewish state should not exist before the Messiah’s arrival, and they insulate themselves from what they regard as the impious influences of the secular world. Their views are increasingly sparking controversies, including over Haredi demands for gender segregation on public buses.
For Haredi men, life centers on the revival of Torah scholarship, which was largely decimated during the Holocaust. Yitzhak Goldknopf, a prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbi in Jerusalem, said that makes study at religious academies, or yeshivas, as important to the Jewish state as military service.
“The new generation doesn’t remember what happened in Europe, and they do not know that without the Torah, we would not exist today,” Goldknopf said. “Yeshiva students will exist until their last drop of blood. There is no compromise on this.”
Goldknopf said secular society has excluded them and used them as political punching bags. Then again, he said, he does not believe for one second that the ultra-Orthodox will be drafted.
That is because the Haredim have gained political clout as their population flourished. Over the years, small ultra-Orthodox political parties have sided with coalition governments -- sometimes helping them survive -- in exchange for subsidies and tax breaks for their communities. Ultra-orthodox parties remain in Netanyahu’s new coalition, but its expansion is likely to decrease their power.
So hopes Boaz Nol, who says he is far more representative of mainstream Israel than the black-hatted Haredi men who dot the stone sidewalks of Jerusalem. From his base an hour’s drive away in the strongly secular beach city of Tel Aviv, the army reservist and investment banker began a protest movement against Haredi exemptions. It has earned him audiences with Netanyahu and, he said, conversations with “yeshiva boys” who whisper to him that they want to join up.
“It’s about the most basic value that we all grow up with - that we all serve in the army,” said Nol, 34, sitting under an umbrella at a stylish café with his dog, Beyonce. “The Israeli public will not agree to such obvious discrimination.”
Economists warn that the exemptions, by requiring full-time yeshiva study, contribute to growing Haredi poverty. About 60 percent of ultra-Orthodox men are unemployed. Women often work, but one income does not go far in families with an average of more than six children.
The combination of high fertility rates, poverty and an ultra-Orthodox school system that does not teach a broad curriculum is unsustainable, said Dan Ben-Taub, executive director of the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies.
“They are going to be the future of our country,” he said. “Their skills fit a merchant class of the 19th century.”
A small but growing number of ultra-Orthodox agree. Aryeh Goldhaber, a 41-year-old Haredi furniture salesman in the town of Beit Shemesh, helped found an advocacy group for working Haredim, who he said often feel treated like second-class citizens by ultra-Orthodox who devote their lives to study and prayer.
A Haredi newspaper recently described members of his group as turncoats who are “importing poison.” Goldhaber said rabbis increasingly listen to his arguments - that he can study Torah many hours a day while also providing for his family - but are not yet willing to provide public backing.
“They’re afraid they’re going to lose their influence,” said Goldhaber, who served in the army.
Everyone agrees that crafting a new law for exemptions will be complex. Most proposals suggest a capped number of exemptions for top Haredi students and gradual rises in enlistment or civil service for others.
But drafting ultra-Orthodox en masse would be nearly impossible, said Stuart Cohen, a political studies professor at Bar-Ilan University who has long focused on the issue. Providing the gender-segregated facilities, prayer time and strictly kosher rations Haredim demand would be “intolerable” to the army and cost-prohibitive, he said.
Cohen said he believes the only solution is ending universal conscription, freeing Haredim to work. But that is not on the table.
“There is tremendous ingrained cultural commitment to the idea of a people’s army,” Cohen said. “So I think we’re just going to stumble from crisis to crisis.”
Special correspondent Samuel Sockol contributed to this report.
Israeli coalition split by demands to make ultra-Orthodox Jews serve in army
Binyamin Netanyahu in crisis talks over bill to extend conscription and end a right to exemption that has lasted for 64 years
Phoebe Greenwood in Jerusalem
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 14 July 2012 12.53 BST
Protesters in Tel Aviv demand extension of compulsory military or community service to all Israelis, including Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews, who are currently exempted. Photograph: David Buimovitch/AFP
Proposals to draft ultra-Orthodox men into the Israeli army, ending an exemption that has lasted for 64 years, are bitterly dividing prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu's coalition government ahead of a crucial debate on Monday.
A new bill allowing the draft is due to be submitted for its first reading in the Knesset, following a ruling by the country's supreme court that the Tal Law, exempting Haredi Jews from military service, was unconstitutional. That law is due to expire on 1 August, but what will replace it has become the subject of ferocious argument over one of the most sensitive issues in Israeli society.
As Netanyahu faced a weekend of crisis talks with his deputy and political rival, Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz, senior government sources conceded that their chances of reaching a solution to save their coalition were slim. Mofaz argues that Haredi conscription is essential to share the burden of service that now falls on secular Israelis, who serve three years in the military after attending high school and can be called up for reserve duty until the age of 45.
Netanyahu's Likud party agrees in part but insists that to force the Haredim – a population of around 700,000 – into the army in "one fell swoop" after 64 years of exemption is impossible. "I would like to see the Haredim join the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] at 18 years old," Moshe Ya'alon, strategic affairs minister and an ally of Netanyahu's, told Israel's army radio last week. "But if we try this, we will start a civil war."
The debate has gripped the Jewish state. For Israel's ultra-Orthodox, the preservation of the Haredim's right to study rather than serve represents a battle for the preservation of the Jewish people, pitting the value of the body against the worth of the soul.
In Haredi communities the mood is defiant. Mea Shearim is a closed, strictly ultra-Orthodox community on the outskirts of Jerusalem's Old City. Apart from the murmur of prayers in the yeshivas and the occasional shout of young schoolboys, its old stone alleyways are hushed. Men in broad hats and frockcoats walk the streets quickly, their eyes cast to the ground. Life here has not changed for hundreds of years and no one thinks it will change now.
"The best life in the world is from those red traffic lights until the end of this street," boasted Yossi, 28, indicating the borders of Mea Shearim where he was born and raised. "About 50% of people here do not hold Israeli IDs. They were here hundreds of years before Israel. The government can do whatever it wants; the people here will go and sit in jail rather than go to the army. They will never serve."
Pointing out a woman who was covered head to toe in black, lace covering her face and pushing a pram briskly along the pavement – her child also entirely obscured with black cloth – he said people here were becoming more religious.
Yossi did serve in the army but he describes himself as religious rather than Orthodox. "My father didn't speak to me when I joined the army. He said, 'I'm not your father any more.' But after two years he got over it," he said. "I think a little differently. I believe if you take from the government you have to give back to it."
This is the opinion of most Israelis, many of whom are outraged that the state pours money into a community that does not work, typically has large numbers of children, does not pay taxes and does not serve in the military.
Last Saturday about 20,000 people demonstrated in Tel Aviv to demand that the country's Orthodox and Arab citizens share the burden of military service. Senior retired military figures and political leaders, including the former opposition leader Tzipi Livni, joined the crowd of protesters, calling for "one people, one draft".
Yosam Merav, a 16-year-old from Tel Aviv, stood with his father in front of a sign reading "the suckers' tent". He said: "I'm about to be enlisted. I'm happy to serve but I want to feel like the country I serve is a country where everything is equal. I don't want to feel like a sucker."
Yaakov Uri, who runs a pizza parlour in Geula, an Orthodox neighbourhood in Jerusalem, said the problem was that secular Israelis like Yosam had no understanding of the sacrifices religious Jews make for them. "You think it's so easy to sit and study all day, bring up seven children on $700 a month? No, it's very hard," he said.
These men, in his opinion, are as critical for the defence of Israel as the army. They provide spiritual protection. "The Torah is saving and guarding the Jews," Uri said. "Take the Iraq war. Saddam Hussein sent 39 Scud missiles into Israel. They didn't touch anyone. What is this? It wasn't the army – they sat with their arms folded. It was the Torah," he said. "There many kinds of soldiers, on planes, on ships, but also in the yeshiva."
As a compromise, he suggested that yeshiva students who were not truly devoted to Torah studies – around one-third, he thought – should serve in the army. But this was provided, of course, that they were served kosher food, given enough time to pray and segregated from women.
Like Uri, Yakov Horowitz believes that the current crisis is the result of the ignorance of secular Israelis. Formerly a barrister in the United States, he is now an Orthodox rabbi running a religious school in Mea Shearim.
"Mofaz is just a politician trying to get votes, but I'd like to tell him you are hurting yourself more than you realise," Horowitz said. "The burden is equal already, shared between the body and the soul. If the soul is not getting an equal part in the battle against our enemies, we will lose. It would be a fatal mistake."
Like Moshe Ya'alon, Horowitz warned that, if the Haredim were pushed into the army, the result would be explosive. People who valued the Haredim's role in society, he said, would protect it "by any means possible".
Kadima Party Exits Ruling Coalition in Dispute Over Military-Service Exemption, a Blow to Prime Minister Netanyahu.
By JOSHUA MITNICK
TEL AVIV—Israeli's centrist Kadima Party pulled out of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, dismantling a broad-based coalition formed just 10 weeks ago and making it more likely Mr. Netanyahu will call early elections.
The partnership—now one of Israel's shortest-lived coalitions—faltered over differences on how to eliminate exemptions for the ultraorthodox from military service.
Kadima Party chief Shaul Mofaz had been considered a moderating force in the government by vowing to push for a renewal of peace talks with the Palestinians and expressing caution about attacking Iranian nuclear targets. The party's departure narrows the coalition government from 94 to 66 seats in the 120-member parliament, leaving Mr. Netanyahu more dependent on right-wing and religious parties in his coalition.
In mid-May, Messrs. Netanyahu and Mofaz said they were forming their coalition to create a national consensus on the contentious issue of requiring tens of thousands of strictly religious young adults to share the burden of mandatory enlistment instead of receiving government support for full-time religious studies.
Children took part in a march in Jerusalem Monday to protest government moves to end an exemption for the ultraorthodox from military service.
In the end, Mr. Mofaz and his Kadima Party demanded a military draft that would be more stringent—with less time for deferrals and heavy fines for draft dodgers—while Mr. Netanyahu favored a plan more deferential to ultraorthodox political parties in his coalition, who resist the change.
"When it was necessary to decide between those carrying the burden and draft-dodging, Benjamin Netanyahu sided with the draft dodgers," Mr. Mofaz said in a news conference to announce that he had informed Mr. Netanyahu of Kadima's withdrawal from the coalition.
Mr. Netanyahu answered Mr. Mofaz in a statement saying that he regretted the decision, but that he favored a gradual elimination of the draft exemption that he said wouldn't drive a rift between the insular ultraorthodox community and mainstream Israel.
Successive governments tolerated the draft exemption from the time of Israel's founding, but it has become increasingly divisive as the ultraorthodox make up a growing percentage of the country's population.
The Supreme Court ruled this year that the law that allowed the exemptions was unconstitutional—forcing the government to come up with a new law by Aug. 1.
In recent months, a group of military reservists have set up an encampment to protest against what they say is preferential treatment. The ultraorthodox insist they will resist the call-ups for service, which run three years for men, two for women, followed by annual reserve duties.
Mr. Mofaz has been criticized by political commentators and politicians at first for joining Mr. Netanyahu as a vice premier even though he had called the prime minister a liar, and now for reversing himself.
"The 70 days in office as vice prime minister were meaningless," wrote Haaretz Editor in Chief Aluf Ben in an online column Tuesday. "Mofaz did not succeed in distancing Netanyahu from his natural partners and his right-wing ideology."
The lack of an agreement exposes Mr. Netanyahu to criticism that he is beholden to the minority interest of the ultraorthodox rather than mainstream Israelis, especially if the draft law becomes a leading issue in the next election.
Mr. Netanyahu is now left to mediate among his remaining coalition partners, who have bitter differences over the change to the exemption.
"It is very hard to see how he will overcome the issue without new elections," said Danny Danon, a parliament member from Mr. Netanyahu's Likud Party. The draft issue "is not something we would want to run on as a campaign issue.''
Elections must be held by October 2013. A Likud legislator speculated that Mr. Netanyahu would hold elections by early next year because as the end of a government's tenure nears, coalition partners tend to become more unruly, making it harder to govern.
A version of this article appeared July 18, 2012, on page A8 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Centrists Leave Israeli Government.
TEL AVIV — Israel’s cabinet is holding a special session on the future of its military that is considering, among other things, a proposal to purchase a second squadron of F-35s.
“This is more than a debate about priorities between the Defense Ministry and other ministries. This is about the priorities within the defense budget itself,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Aug. 15 at the beginning of the specially convened meeting at the Ministry of Defense. “We will have to address the historic changes happening around us.”
Israel, he added, “is facing various threats and we have to be able to meet them. We have to make sure that the security Israeli citizens enjoy will continue in spite of the serious events in our environment.”
The challenge for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in bracing for the next five years is that it’s not sure what is in store for tomorrow. The past few days have seen the General Staff work out the IDF’s next five-year plan, dubbed “Oz” ( Strength), in order to submit cohesive recommendations to the cabinet. Oz is supposed to go into effect at the end of the year once it is approved by the IDF General Staff, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the cabinet. It is supposed to be a revision of Halamish, the former five-year plan that Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz drafted last year but had to nix due to government-imposed budget cuts.
The surprise in Oz is the examination of potentially acquiring a second squadron of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (48 aircraft instead of 24). Lockheed Martin is offering the Israeli Air Force a deal to acquire the second squadron at a lower price than the first squadron. Israel placed an order for its first squadron of F-35s in October 2010 for $2.75 billion. The first aircraft are expected to begin arriving in Israel sometime in 2017.
The General Staff workshop is already discussing the option of accepting the proposal while dramatically reducing the original plan to produce hundreds of Merkava Namer armored personnel carriers (APCs) from General Dynamics’ assembly line in Lima, Ohio. The problem is that Israel’s defense ministry has awarded General Dynamics a 2010 contract to build 600 Namer (“Leopard” in Hebrew) APCs over the next eight years. Canceling this contract could pose serious financial problems with General Dynamics.
Meanwhile, the dispute over the 2013 defense budget is gaining momentum. The treasury estimates defense spending would reach NIS 50.5 billion ($12.5 billion) in 2013, while the defense ministry expects no less than NIS 62 billion. Treasury officials presented data showing that the defense budget has reached NIS 60.578 billion this year, well above the figure of NIS 50.5 billion set out for 2012 in the original biennial budget.
An Israeli army helicopter searches Sept. 5 for the remains of an unarmed and unidentified drone in the northern Negev, which the Israeli air force shot it down after entering the country's airspace from the Mediterranean Sea. (David Buimovitch / AFP via Getty Images)
TEL AVIV — A pair of Israel Air Force F-16Is used locally-produced Python missiles to shoot an apparently Iranian-made unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) out of the sky following a nearly 20-minute incursion into Israeli air space on Oct. 6.
Operational details of the Oct. 6 aerial intrusion are still under investigation. Preliminary findings indicate that the air vehicle was unarmed, but equipped with a photographic payload. It approached Israeli airspace from the Mediterranean Sea north of the Gaza Strip and was flying eastward before the order was given to shoot it down in the hills south of Hebron.
Brig. Gen. Yoav “Poli” Mordechai, Israel's military spokesman, said the UAV was detected well before it penetrated Israeli airspace and could have been targeted at any given time during its flight path. Commanders opted to wait until it reached an unpopulated area before issuing the order to shoot, he said.
“The air vehicle was under surveillance by air and ground sensors during its entire flight path ... This was an operational success,” Mordechai said.
Mordechai said investigators have not yet concluded which specific type of UAV was destroyed, from where, precisely, it was launched, and who was responsible. Nevertheless, military sources here suspected the UAV was part of the increasingly sophisticated weaponry provided by Iran to militant proxy groups north and south of Israel's borders.
The Oct. 6 incident was the third time the Israel Air Force (IAF) used air-to-air missiles initially developed for dogfights with enemy fighter planes to address small, asymmetrical UAV threats.
After two embarrassing infiltrations by Iranian Ababil UAVs operated by Hizbollah in the 20 months prior to Israel's 2006 Lebanon War, the IAF successfully shot down two Ababils during the course of that 34-day war. Remnants of the downed UAVs showed that at least one was equipped with nearly 10-kilograms of explosives.