‘who is a Jew’ Issue Shelved in Effort to Form New Coalition Government

Negotiations for the formation of a new Labor-led coalition gov- ernment gained momentum today as the controversial “Who is a Jew” issue was shunted aside for the moment and the negotiators concentrated on matters more amenable to compromise. The coalition talks are principally between the Labor Alignment and its old partners, the Independent Liberal Party and National Religious Party. The Civil Rights List headed by Mrs. Shulamit Aloni dropped out of the coalition negotiations yesterday after it became apparent that Labor would not agree to its principal demands.

The List, which won three Knesset seats in its first election race Dec. 31, insisted that it would join a coalition government only if it were granted freedom to vote as conscience rather than coalition discipline dictated on matters such as state and religion that have a direct bearing on individuals’ lives, The Labor Alignment, however, considered Mrs. Aloni’s demands a breach of the status quo and refused.

Her removal from coalition talks has weakened the ILP position. As long as the ILP remains a possible coalition partner, its negotiations with the Civil Rights List for the creation of a common parliamentary bloc have been suspended. But the two factions continue to hold regular consultations and are cooperating on as many issues as possible before the Knesset. The ILP has promised to consult the Civil Rights List before it signs any coalition agreement.

Meanwhile, the Labor Alignment’s negotiating committee is meeting regularly in the offices of its chairman, Finance Minister Pinhas Sapir. Sapir has deliberately put off discussion of the NRP’s demand for a government commitment to amend the Law of Return in a manner that would recognize conversions performed only by Orthodox rabbis as valid in Israel.

Labor leaders, including Premier Golda Meir have stated categorically that they would not surrender on that point. But the matter is under discussion unofficially between Knesset members Haim Zadok of the Labor Alignment and Yitzhak Rafael of the NRP. Rafael said yesterday that he was more optimistic than he was last week about the prospects for a new coalition government.

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