Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz said Tuesday his Kadima party had no choice but to leave the coalition, after being unable to come to terms over new universal draft legislation.
Kadima convened a meeting at 5 p.m. to vote on whether to return to the opposition, nine weeks after its 28 MKs swelled the coalition to 94.
The MKs voted by a wide margin to leave the coalition.
“With great distress, I say there’s no escape but to take the decision to leave the coalition,” Mofaz said at the start of the meeting. “It was not easy to enter the government — I paid a public price for it — but there’s no escape from the need to break away.”
During the meeting, Mofaz sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying he had missed a historic chance.
“Unfortunately, you decided not to take this opportunity,” he wrote. “Through narrow political considerations you chose a covenant with the ultra-Orthodox instead of with the Zionist majority.”
Former Kadima MK Tzachi Hanegbi reportedly called for the Kadima faction to continue negotiations with Likud over the draft issue, opening up a discussion of the possibility of staying in the government and temporarily delaying a vote on the matter of splitting off.
Kadima’s defection spells the end of a barely two-month national unity government, which saw Mofaz join forces with Netanyahu in May in return for an agreement in principle to legislate a new universal draft, among other things.
Efforts between coalition parties to draft a new universal enlistment law, which would see the ultra-Orthodox and Israeli Arabs serve in the military or national service, have faltered over several issues. The Kadima-led Plesner committee was disbanded by Netanyahu late last month, though, he said, most of its recommendations would be accepted.
Earlier Tuesday, Netanyahu had adopted a proposal put forward by Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud), which called for ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs to join the army or perform national service, such as serving in police or fire units, by ages 23 to 26. The motion also included incentives for those who enlist at a younger age.
Mofaz blasted the proposal as “disproportionate and contrary to the High Court ruling,” which stated that the burden of serving should be shared by all citizens. He also said it did not meet the principle of equality laid out by the Plesner Committee.
Currently, ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students are given draft deferments under the Tal Law, which expires on August 1. Netanyahu said Monday that should no new law be in place by then, the army would apply the draft according to a law that puts yeshiva students on equal footing with the rest of the country’s 18-year-olds.
Opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich had called on Mofaz to quit the coalition and hold new elections. She said the current government reeks of “deals and schemes” and that the Netanyahu-Mofaz coalition “should do what it should have done two months ago: Hold elections and give the public the right to make an unbiased decision on the important issues concerning the fate of the State of Israel.”
With Kadima leaving the coalition, the government will still stand, though only by a slim majority. Before Kadima joined the government in early May, the country had seemed headed for early elections.
Gabe Fisher contributed to this report.