JERUSALEM (Jul. 4)
Premier Golda Meir, who returned late last night from the Socialist International conference in Vienna, is working virtually around the clock to avert a political crisis that could topple her government. Within hours after landing at Lydda Airport, Mrs. Meir was in conference with leaders of her Labor Alignment to try to find a way out of the seeming impasse created by the imminent debate in the Knesset on two bills which would have the effect of altering the religious status quo that has prevailed in Israel since its independence 25 years ago.
The Premier heard a long report today from Asher Yadlin, the Labor Party Secretary General who had accompanied her to Vienna but rushed home several days in advance of the official party because of the crisis. She conferred with Deputy Premier Yigal Allon, Finance Minister Pinhas Sapir and Israel Galili, the Minister-Without-Portfolio who represent the top echelon of her Labor Party. She is scheduled to meet tomorrow with the heads of the National Religious Party, the Independent Liberals and Mapam in the hope of persuading them to change their positions, which Mrs. Meir has warned, will topple the coalition government and necessitate new elections this fall, a year ahead of schedule.
At issue are two legislative measures introduced an private members bills which the Knesset has been asked to place on its docket next week. One of them, submitted by Gideon Hausner of the Independent Liberal Party, provides for civil marriage, presently prohibited in Israel, in limited cases where a couple is denied marriage rites by the rabbinate for religious reasons. The second bill, which its adherents seem to view as a counter-attack against the Hausner bill, though the two are not related, would amend Israel’s Law of Return to specify that conversions to Judaism of prospective immigrants must be made in accordance with halacha, Jewish religious law. The law as it stands does not make that distinction and as such has been bitterly attacked by Orthodox elements.
The amendment measure was introduced by Shlomo Lorincz of the Orthodox Agudat Israel. Lorincz told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency yesterday that he first submitted his bill last Jan. and did not press hard for action but with the Knesset recess approaching he could wait no longer. He insisted that the Knesset must recognize his bill as “urgent” to counter-balance the Hausner bill.
Mrs. Meir is opposed to both bills on grounds that they would destroy the religious status quo. She threatened to evict the Independent Liberals from the coalition if they brought their measure to a vote. But she apparently did not realize at the time that a majority of the Mapam faction, partners in her Labor Alignment, would support the limited civil marriage measure. The Mapam position however is still not definite.
Similarly, Mrs. Meir has sought to persuade the National Religious Party to support the government against the Lorincz measure. Dr. Zerach Warhaftig, the Minister for Religious Affairs and an NRP leader, said on a television interview last night that his party would either abstain or leave the chamber when the Knesset votes on the Lorincz bill but could not possibly vote against it.
Defections by three coalition partners on the issue would seem to leave the Premier no choice but to resign. The Labor Party’s policy-making political bureau is due to convene Thursday to decide on the party’s final position. The decision will be conveyed to Mapam at a meeting of the Alignment executive next week and to the ILP and NRP as well. Most Israeli leaders are opposed to the prospect of new elections which could be held within three months if necessary. But Menachean Beigin, leader of the opposition Gahal faction, has come out as a strong advocate of early elections. He announced today that he would submit a bill to dissolve the present Knesset and hold elections.