JERUSALEM (May. 31)
Premier Golda Meir’s 24 member national unity coalition government demonstrated over the week-end that it is able to withstand serious stresses and strains from within. Two threats to coalition unity that emerged last week were taken in stride by the majority Labor Alignment. These came from the Gahal (Herut-Liberal) faction, the voice of militant nationalism In the Cabinet, and from the National Religious Party, representing the Orthodox religious establishment, which threatened to quit the coalition unless it got its way on the Issue of conversions. The Gahal threat was, in the long run, the more serious. It is Israel’s second largest political party. When it refused to endorse Premier Meir’s political report to the Knesset last Tuesday, many observers saw a cabinet crisis in the offing. Gahal took exception to Mrs. Meir’s implied acceptance of the United Nations Security Council’s Nov. 22,1967 resolution which calls for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories in return for a peace undertaking by the Arabs. But the report was adopted by a Knesset vote of 33-6 with 19 abstention, including Gahal’s.
Foreign Minister Abba Eban and others, responding to the inter-party calls to eliminate Gahal from the coalition, pointed to the vote as an indication that the Labor majority is still the decisive influence in the Cabinet. Mr. Eban said Gahal did not exercise leverage over the Labor Party and endorsed continuation of the broadest possible coalition. Deputy Premier Yigal Allon, addressing the Press Club in Tel Aviv Friday, said no consequences should be drawn from Gahal’s apparent breach of coalition unity although he conceded that their abstention jeopardized the image of national unity in political affairs. Some Labor Party “doves” professed to be pleased with Gahal’s action. One party official said “Without this demonstrative abstention” the Premier’s speech “might have gone unnoticed” abroad. According to their view, Mrs. Meir’s reference to the 1967 resolution and her mention of “Rhodes type talks” with the Arabs were the result of American persuasion to take a more flexible line. According to Foreign Ministry sources, international reaction to Mrs. Meir’s Knesset report was very favorable, particularly in Western chancelleries.
GALILEE RULES OUT FURTHER CONCESSIONS TO THE NRP ON THE ISSUE OF CONVERSIONS
On the issue of conversions, the Labor Party has made it clear that it has no intention of giving in to NRP demands that it push a new law through the Knesset that would declare invalid conversions to Judaism made in Israel by non-Orthodox rabbis. Deputy Premier Allon declared in his Press Club talk that the Labor Party would not hold discussions with the NRP under the threat of an ultimatum. The NRP executive committee voted last Thursday to leave the Cabinet unless Labor initiated the kind of legislation it wants. Labor Party Minister-Without-Portfolio Israel Galilee, addressing the party secretariat, ruled out “any further concessions” to the NRP. He said that if the Religious bloc wanted to leave the coalition on that issue, the Labor Alignment was “ready to run the Government in accordance with the election results.”
The issue came to a head over the case of Mrs. Helen Zeidman, an American born Israeli who was converted to Judaism by a Reform rabbi in Tel Aviv. She is suing the Government for registration as a Jew. The Israel Supreme Court has given the NRP Interior Minister Moshe Shapiro 19 days to decide whether to comply with Mrs. Zeidman’s request. The State Attorney General set a precedent last week by refusing to oppose the court’s order nisi against the Interior Ministry. Premier Meir met with NRP ministers last night to discuss the issue but no conclusions were reached. Meanwhile the NRP has modified its threat to leave the coalition. They claimed that such action would not necessarily mean leaving the Government. They would relinquish their three ministerial portfolios Interior, Welfare and Religious Affairs. But they would continue to hold on to their lower echelon posts in the Defense and Foreign Ministries.