JERUSALEM — Israeli lawmakers passed a contentious law Wednesday meant to draft ultra-Orthodox Jews into the military, the culmination of a drive for reforms that has seen mass protests by the religious community in Israel and beyond.
The issue of conscription of the ultra-Orthodox is at the heart of a cultural war in Israel. The matter featured prominently in elections last year that led to the establishment of the center-right government, which has pushed for the new legislation.
Wednesday's vote passed 67-1 in the 120-member Knesset. Opposition lawmakers — all 52 of them — were absent, boycotting the vote to protest what they say are strong-arm tactics by the ruling coalition meant to push through a series of laws in parliament this week.
"The change begins tomorrow morning and it is expected to transform the face of Israeli society unrecognizably," said Yaakov Peri, from the Yesh Atid party, which has led the drive for draft reforms.
Since Israel's founding in 1948, the ultra-Orthodox, who make up about 8 percent of Israel's 8 million citizens, have largely been allowed to avoid military service in order to pursue religious studies. In contrast, most secular Jewish men perform three years of compulsory service.