Mrs. Meir Struggling to Save Coalition As Crucial Knesset Vote Approaches

Premier Golda Meir continued to work tirelessly today to save her coalition government from a fatal split over two bills pending in the Knesset that would alter the status quo on religious matters. She was closeted for two hours with veteran Mapam leaders Yaacov Hazan and Meir Yarri and then plunged into discussions with National Religious Party ministers. Earlier in the day she convened her Labor Alignment Cabinet ministers to seek a way out of the impasse.

The Premier is trying to persuade the Mapam leadership not to support a limited civil marriages bill introduced in the Knesset by Gideon Hausner, of the Independent Liberal Party. She is also trying to get a commitment from the NRP to support the government against a bill introduced by Agudat Israel MK Shlomo Lorincz which would amend Israel’s Law of Return to specify that conversions of prospective immigrants must be in accordance with halacha, religious law. The government opposes both bills with equal vigor on grounds that to alter the status quo on religion would precipitate serious divisions in the nation.

The NRP has been under severe pressure from Orthodox elements here and abroad to support the Lorincz bill. But its defection from the government, of which it is a member, would be a violation of coalition discipline. Some sources here said Mrs. Meir may have warned Lorincz that if he doesn’t withdraw his “Who is a Jew?” bill she will permit Labor Alignment members to vote their conscience on the Hausner bill, in which case its passage would seem assured. The Premier is scheduled to report to the Labor Party Political Bureau tomorrow on the results of her efforts so far.

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