Netanyahu avoids early elections over ultra-Orthodox draft

Netanyahu avoids early elections over ultra-Orthodox draft
Israel's PM narrowly avoided a shock election - that some insist he is orchestrating to distract from despite corruption allegations - by navigating a controversial bill concerning military service exemptions
2 min read
14 March, 2018
Netanyahu is precariously navigating coalition infighting and corruption scandals [Getty]

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced on Tuesday that his coalition struck a compromise to avoid taking the country to early elections.

Netanyahu's coalition partners were divided over a bill that would continue to grant exemptions from mandatory military service to ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, a highly divisive issue among Israelis.

The ultra-Orthodox parties demanded the government grant the exemptions, however rival religious and secular parties in the government threatened to bolt over the issue, potentially undermining Netanyahu's government, which holds 66 of the Knesset's 120 seats.

Under Tuesday's compromise, the five-seat secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, which opposed the bill, will be allowed to vote against it. The bill is set to pass without the party's support.

"I said yesterday that I would make a final ultimate effort to prevent elections and maintain the good government under my authority," Netanyahu said in an address before parliament. "I promised and I fulfilled."

He thanked his coalition allies for "exhibiting responsibility so that we can continue leading with determination and success."

After Netanyahu's announcement, the Knesset voted against motions by the opposition to dissolve parliament and hold early elections.

The political showdown came as Netanyahu faces possible indictment on corruption charges. The opposition accused Netanyahu of manufacturing the crisis in order to force a new election. Early elections would have shifted attention away from his legal problems, and a win would have shored up his position ahead of a possible indictment.

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing in the cases against him, and has accused the police and media of a conspiracy to oust him.

Polls suggest he could remain prime minister after fresh elections even with corruption investigations hanging over him.

He had alternatively sought a guarantee from coalition members that they would remain in the government even if he is indicted, Israeli media have reported.