Knesset Debates Cabinet Reshuffle

The Knesset met today to debate Premier Menachem Begin’s projected Cabinet reorganization with the Aguda Israel holding up the government’s plan unless its demands far tougher restrictions on abortion are met.

The Knesset is expected to vote on an amendment to the present, relatively-liberal abortion laws which would eliminate social welfare needs — the problems of large, poverty level families — as grounds for abortion. The Aguda Israel, which is governed by its “Council of Sages,” said last night that it would not support the Cabinet reshuffle unless the abortion amendment is adopted.

The Cabinet reorganization will be stymied unless the Knesset approves a government-sponsored bill authorizing the Premier to appoint a second Deputy Prime Minister. That post would go to Finance Minister Simcha Ehrlich who would, in turn, be replaced by farmer Commerce Minister Yigal Hurwitz.

AGUDA MAY HOLD BALANCE OF POWER

The Aguda bloc, with only four Knesset seats, may hold the balance of power since Begin’s reorganization plan is not fully supported within his coalition. But the abortion restriction is also strongly opposed by members of coalition factions. The seven MKs of the Democratic Movement are considered certain to vote against it and four or five members of Likud’s Liberal Party wing are likely to oppose it or abstain. The Labor Alignment and other center to left opposition factions are vehemently opposed.

But the Aguda insists that the government must make good on Begin’s promise of more than two years ago that his coalition would make every effort to see to it that the abortion amendment is adopted. The Aguda joined the coalition on that basis and has supported it in the Knesset although it has declined a Cabinet seat. The decision to link the abortion amendment to the bill facilitating the Cabinet reorganization was made at a meeting of the Aguda’s political faction last night.

Aguda leaders conceded. however, that they do not want to leave the government or take any action that could precipitate its downfall because the Begin regime has yielded more to the Aguda on religious issues than any of its predecessor. But the Sages ruled otherwise. Nevertheless, consultations continued today between coalition leaders and Aguda MKs Shlomo Lorincz and Menachem Porush in an effort to avert a crisis.

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