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Knesset vote on Ultra-Orthodox conscription bill deepens Israeli rift

The Knesset, Israel's parliament, on Monday evening voted in favor of continuing work on a bill from a previous Knesset round that offers an exemption of military service for the Ultra-Orthodox youth, known also as Haredi Yeshiva students.

The bill passed with 63 votes in favor, in the 120-member parliament, and will be passed to the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in preparation for the bill's second and third readings before becoming a law.

The bill, if approved, would lower the age of mandatory service for Haredi Yeshiva students from 26 to 21, and "very slowly" increase the rate of Haredi conscription in the army.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was the only Knesset member among the ruling coalition -- 64 Knesset members -- to vote against the bill, according to the daily Yedioth Ahronoth.

Following the voting session, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Chief of Staff Tzavhi Braverman was heard harshly criticizing Gallant over his vote, describing him as rude, and that he must be removed.

Yair Lapid, Israel's opposition leader, strongly slammed the passing of the bill, saying it is "one of the most despicable moments of humiliation of the Israeli Knesset ever."

Benny Gantz, who split from Netanyahu's emergency government on Sunday, opposed the bill and accused Netanyahu of fighting to perpetuate the Haredi exemption from mandatory service.

On May 15, Netanyahu said he will advance in reviving a 2022 bill to lower yeshiva students’ age of exemption from military service that was adopted by the previous Israeli government.

Gantz, who was part of the bill in 2022, said the bill is not fit for Israel amid the ongoing war on Gaza and escalation in the north with the Lebanese Hezbollah group.

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