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Israel's ultra-Orthodox now outsiders

By Aron Heller

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, March 12 2013 9:37 p.m. MDT

FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 1, 2012 file photo, Ultra Orthodox Jews dance as they celebrate the holiday of Sukkot at a yeshiva in the Ultra Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem. As Israel's new government takes shape, powerful ultra-Orthodox Jewish political parties seem poised to find themselves in unfamiliar territory, the opposition. A pair of rising political superstars want to end a system in which the ultra-Orthodox used their political clout to win generous government subsidies, evade compulsory military service and try to impose their conservative social mores. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)

Associated Press

JERUSALEM — As Israel's new government takes shape, the country's powerful ultra-Orthodox Jewish political parties seem poised to find themselves in unfamiliar territory — the parliamentary opposition — instead of their traditional seats around the Cabinet table.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's two new potential partners pledge to end a system in which the ultra-Orthodox have used political clout to win generous government subsidies, evade compulsory military service and attempt to impose their conservative social mores.

Nothing is certain yet. Netanyahu is still negotiating, and he has not yet signed coalition agreements with the two main parties — the centrist Yesh Atid and hawkish Jewish Home.

If his new government excludes the ultra-Orthodox parties, it could reshape the face of Israel, which has experienced growing strife in recent years between the fast-growing ultra-Orthodox community and the general public.

Ultra-Orthodox party leaders are vowing to put up a fight.

"This is a passing trend," Meshulam Nahari, an outgoing Cabinet minister from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, told The Associated Press. "People understand the value of studying the Torah and we will not be abandoned. Those who will cut funding have no right to be a part of the Jewish state."

The ultra-Orthodox make up about 10 percent of Israel's 8 million citizens. Because of Israel's coalition government system, they have traditionally wielded influence well beyond their numbers by ensuring a parliamentary majority for a string of prime ministers.

The system has led to high rates of unemployment and poverty in the ultra-Orthodox community. It also has bred widespread resentment among the secular and modern Orthodox publics, and it became the central issue in January parliamentary elections.

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