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With military draft reform, Netanyahu learns he can't please everyone

Prime Minister Netanyahu is accused of catering to ultra-Orthodox with his stance on draft exemptions, but the religious group isn't happy with him, either.

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An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walks behind Israeli soldiers at the entrance to a recruiting office in Jerusalem on July 4. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's largest coalition partner issued a veiled threat on Wednesday to quit the government over a dispute about a bid to amend Israel's compulsory draft policy opposed by the powerful ultra-Orthodox community.

Baz Ratner/Reuters

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has adeptly navigated Israel’s infamously volatile political landscape for more than three years – until this month. Now he is trapped between two diametrically opposed political forces – the ultra-Orthodox and the secular centrist and left parties – with no clear way of satisfying both as he heads into possible elections. 

When the centrist Kadima party and its leader, Shaul Mofaz, bolted a 10-week-old "unity" coalition yesterday, accusing the prime minister of moving too slowly on the politically charged issue of ending military draft exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jews, the reputations of both politicians were tarnished.

Commentators pointed to the swift divorce as evidence that the leaders formed their match out of political convenience, rather than a joint desire to make controversial reforms, as they initially argued.  

In mid-May, Mr. Netanyahu reversed a plan to hold a snap election in September in favor of forming a broad coalition with Mr. Mofaz to tackle draft reform, election reform, and the peace process. The leaders touted it as a "historic" chance to change the draft system, which for decades has allowed thousands of ultra-Orthodox young adults to avoid the mandatory two or three-year military service and subsequent reserve duty by remaining in state-funded religious seminaries.

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