Crisis Partially Solved Cabinet Agrees Nrp May Abstain on “who is Jew?” Bill

The Cabinet disposed of one aspect of a looming government crisis today when it formally agreed to allow the National Religious Party to abstain when the Knesset votes on an amendment to the Law of Return specifying halachic conversions for prospective immigrants. But the major test facing Premier Golda’s Meir’s coalition government is the Independent Liberal Party’s limited civil marriages bill. The Labor Party and the NRP indicated today that they would rely on their majority in the Knesset presidium to postpone a vote on the controversial measure. But the ILP said it would press for a vote before parliament recesses at the end of this month, even if it means appealing to the Supreme Court.

The difficulties with the NRP were solved following a five hour session Thursday night when the Labor Party agreed to authorize Premier Meir to allow the NRP to abstain. The Religious Party insisted that it could not possibly oppose the measure introduced by Agudat Israel MK Shlomo Lorincz, which contains the phrase "according to halacha" (religious law). The measure is popularly known as the "Who Is A Jew?" bill. The NRP leadership announced however that the party’s 12-man Knesset faction would abstain when it came to a vote. The Cabinet today voted down a proposal by Tourism Minister Moshe Kol of the ILP that all coalition party MKs be permitted to vote their conscience on the Lorincz bill.

Kol was backed by Mapam ministers Victor Shemtov and Nathan Peled. His bid which a majority of his colleagues turned down, would have created a precedent for the civil marriages bill. One of the main problems facing the Labor Alignment is to convince its Mapam constituents to support the Government in opposing the latter.

Mapam is still committed by a majority decision of its political bureau to vote for the measure introduced by former Attorney General Gideon Hausner. The veteran Mapam leadership is trying to persuade the party members to observe coalition discipline. But younger, more radical elements have apparently taken the helm. Labor Party circles said today that while Mrs. Meir is prepared to tolerate abstention by Mapam she could not agree to their total defiance of the government implicit in a vote for the measure. Mrs. Meir has said she would dissolve her government in that event, precipitating early elections.

Neither the Hausner nor the Lorincz bills are considered likely to pass. But according to Aharon Yadlin, the Labor Party’s Secretary General, Mapam support of the Hausner bill would destroy the coalition. The bill provides for civil marriages in cases where religious marriage is denied by the rabbinate on halachic grounds.

Yitzhak Golan, an ILP Knesset member, said today that Premier Meir had tried to Justify her appeal to the ILP to agree to a postponement on grounds that by the time the Knesset reconvenes next fall, Rabbi Shlomo Goren will have been elected Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi and would solve pressing halachic problems such as those of unmarriageable." (See news analysis on page 4.)

But Golan said his party was not convinced. "Nobody can be sure that Goren will be elected nor that he will be able to withstand pressure from other rabbis even if he is," the MK said.

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