JERUSALEM (Jul. 6)
Indications that a government crisis might be averted appeared today as consultations between government and party leaders continued into the night. According to one source. Premier Golda Meir has agreed to allow the National Religious Party to abstain when the Knesset votes on the “Who is a Jew?” bill, an amendment to the Law of Return that would specify halachic conversions for prospective immigrants. Mrs. Meir had previously insisted that her coalition partner support the government in opposition to the measure.
But Premier Meir and her Labor Alignment still must persuade the Independent Liberal Party to postpone a showdown on a limited civil marriages hill and convince its Mapam alignment partners not to support the ILP measure if it comes to a vote. The ILP has the moral support of Mapam for the bill introduced by former Attorney General Gideon Hausner.
Similarly, the Agudat Israel, whose MK Shlomo Lorincz introduced the amendment to the Law of Return, has the tacit support of the NRP. NRP leaders apparently convinced Premier Meir that a religious party could not vote against a measure involving halacha (religious law) and offered to abstain. But abstention will probably not satisfy Orthodox elements here and abroad which are putting severe pressure on the NRP to vote for the Lorincz bill. (The Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the US and Canada issued a “warning” to the NRP today to support the amendment. In a statement issued in New York, the Orthodox group said that if the NRP voted against the amendment “or even if they remain silent and completely abstain from voting, we shall be forced to utterly condemn their actions and to brand them a group whose policies are not in accordance with Torah and Mitzvoth.”)
The government opposes both the ILP and Agudat Israel measures on grounds that they would alter the religious status quo creating a situation dangerous to national unity. The government made strenuous efforts to avoid a show-down in the Knesset at this time but both Hausner and Lorincz introduced their bills and asked the Knesset Speaker to schedule a debate before Parliament recesses at the end of this month.
The immediate issue for Mrs. Meir’s Cabinet is breach of coalition discipline by the ILP and NRP and a probable defection by Mapam, a member of the Labor Alignment. Under such circumstances the Premier made it clear that she would have to dissolve her government. New elections would be held this fall, a full year ahead of schedule. Except for Gahal and several smaller opposition factions, most of the parties oppose elections at this time for a variety of reasons, mainly that the country is not prepared for them.
The ILP held new consultations today and their meeting was reported continuing tonight. One suggestion advanced today at a meeting of Labor Alignment leaders was to force the ILP to postpone its bill under a Knesset rule that separate bills on the same general issue cannot be considered simultaneously. The Knesset recently took up a civil marriage bill introduced by Uri Avneri of the Free Center faction. There was no indication whether the Alignment would adopt that tactic.