New Govt. Crisis Looms over Bills Involving Religious Status Quo

Prospects of a government crisis that might force new elections emerged today over the planned introduction of two bills in the Knesset both of which are opposed by Premier Golda Meir’s Labor Alignment and both of which she has labeled in advance as involving violations of the government coalition agreement.

One is the previously debated private member’s bill, proposed by Gideon Hausner for his Independent Liberal party, which would introduce a limited form of civil marriage, now barred in Israel. While Mrs. Meir’s coalition has the votes to defeat the measure, she has announced that if Mapam, the leftist member of the alignment supports it, as it has threatened to do, she would consider it a coalition agreement violation and resign.

The newest problem, which led to a special session today of Labor Alignment Ministers, is the possibility that the National Religious Party-on which the Labor Alignment relies for a majority-may vote against the government on the “Who is a Jew?” issue later this week. That issue is slated to come before the Knesset in the form of a private members bill to be presented by the Orthodox Agudat Israel’s Shlomo Lorincz. His bill would seek to amend Israel’s Law of Return by specifying that prospective immigrants converted to Judaism must be converted in accordance with Jewish religious law (Halacha), an element of the present law which is not specific.

THE NRP is split on the Lorincz bill. Party leaders want to settle for an abstention in the vote on the measure, initially slated for introduction Wednesday. NRP officials based that strategy on the hope that it would be acceptable to the Labor Alignment which indicated two weeks ago it was prepared to allow Mapam to abstain on the Hausner measure. But younger NRP elements want the party to vote for the amendment, partly because the NRP has been under severe pressure from Orthodox elements in Israel and abroad who want the Lorincz amendment made law.

Acting Premier Yigal Allon said the Labor party would see a favorable vote by the NRP for the Lorincz amendment as a breach of the coalition agreement which stipulates no change in the status quo in religious affairs. He hinted of an early election– which would be a year ahead of schedule–if the NRP voted for the amendment. Initially, NRP officials said they would indicate the party’s decision Tuesday at a meeting of its central committee in Tel Aviv. Later today Lorincz agreed to postpone introduction of his bill until next week. He made the announcement after a talk with Allon.

An agreement by which Mapam agreed not to vote on the Hausner measure until after the recess of the Knesset, scheduled to begin shortly, apparently came unstuck today. Hausner said today he was determined to get a vote on his bill before the Knesset recess starts. Under pressure of its more militant members, Mapam probably will vote for the Hausner measure and both parties face eviction from the coalition. Labor party leaders reportedly were still hoping to get indefinite postponements of Knesset votes on both measures.

The Labor party is awaiting the return of Premier Meir from Vienna, where she has been attending a Socialist International conference. She has dispatched Aharon Yadlin, the new Labor Party secretary general, from Vienna to Israel to start talks with the NRP. She reportedly is determined to insist that the NRP vote with the government on the Lorincz measure and not merely to abstain.

The director general of the Interior Ministry dismissed assertions today that at least three months would be needed to prepare the country for new elections, if a government crisis forced them. Speaking on the Army broadcasting station, Chaim Kovarsky said that, from the “technical point of view,” national elections could be held within 42 days after the Knesset decided on it. He added that his office was “in a position” to organize elections within that period.

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