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Preparing for the Elections; Labor Party Pledges to Ensure Religious Pluralism in Israel

– The Labor Party pledged today to “ensure recognition of all the (religious) streams in Judaism, by means of legislation if need be,” should it win the elections this spring. That formulation, worked out in 11th hour behind-the-scenes consultations, was the central plank in a State-and-Religion platform adopted by the party’s national convention.

It represented a compromise between the “Young Guard” and other liberal elements in the party who sought a firmer commitment to religious pluralism and more conservative trends led by Moshe Baram, a Cabinet minister in the former Labor government, and MK Rabbi Menachem Hacohen.

The convention was due to wind up late tonight with the ratification of a new Central Committee comprising over 1000 members. Originally, Labor intended a smaller Central Committee–the senior policy making forum between conventions. But pressures from various sectors and interest groups within the party resulted in its enlargement.

Former Premier Yitzhak Rabin kept a low profile during the convention. The “Rabin Camp” was said to have some 26 percent of the new Central Committee and to be satisfied with that representation. Rabin won almost 30 percent of the votes in the leadership contest with Shimon Peres at the convention’s plenary sessions in December.

The second session of the convention is ending with out any particular drama. The party appeared determined to present an image of unity and business-like preparation to take over the reins of government later this year.

A poll published today by Israel’s leading pollster, Mina Zemach, showed Labor’s solid majority holding steady, though there would be some erosion if former Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and former Defense Minister Ezer Weizman decided to form a new centrist party.

Former Bank Hapoalim chairman Yaacov Levinson was the “star” of the first day’s deliberations, pre

senting a sober and impressive economic program and in this way asserted himself as the leading candidate for finance minister. The “State-and-Religion” issue was the focus of debate during the second day.

A committee headed by former Foreign Minister Abba Eban drafted the original proposals calling for “equality” between the various “streams” (Orthodox, Conservative and Reform) and pledging legislation to enable non-orthodox rabbis to officiate at weddings. But a last-minute protest move led by Baram, former UN Ambassador Chaim Herzog and Hacohen produced a reconsideration that continued through yesterday and into this morning.

The reference to officiating at marriages was omitted from the convention resolution. It was decided that this would be taken up by the new Central Committee. The Convention pledged itself to “ensure recognition” of all the streams, a vague formula that all sections of the party could live with.

ESSENCE OF OTHER RESOLUTIONS

In addition, the convention passed resolutions calling on the party, when in office, to ensure religious facilities and state budgets for the non-Orthodox “streams” and calling on the party to ensure as well that representatives of the non-Orthodox streams are elected to the regional religious councils around the country.

These bodies, which exist alongside municipalities and regional councils, disburse State budgets for religious services and have traditionally been by and large dominaged by the National Religious Party and Aguda Israel, although the other parties are also represented.

Similarly the convention called on Labor Party representatives in the municipalities and regional councils to “relate with total impartiality to all the various streams” and to ensure that public services, public land and buildings be made “available to all the streams to enable them to carry out their various life-styles.”

Other resolutions on state-and-religion declared that: Labor will revoke recent legislation barring abortions for “social” reasons and limiting autopsies; Labor will act, by legislation if necessary, to ease the plight of those individuals and families affected by special halachic restrictions (bastardy) and would-be immigrants similarly affected; and Labor will oppose restrictive “Who is a Jew” legislation as proposed by the Orthodox parties and supported by Herut.

ROLE OF RELIGION EXTOLLED

In presenting these resolutions, Eban read out a preamble–also endorsed by the convention–which expressed Labor’s “respect for the heritage and faith of Israel” and which extolled the role of religion in preserving the nation through centuries of trial and travail. The statement pledged “stress on Jewish tradition” in Israeli education.

Party officials acknowledged that the resolutions, in leanings towards greater recognition of Reform and Conservative Jewry, might lead to a loss of support in some sectors of the populations especially among Sephardic voters who are traditional minded. Nevertheless, they said, the party was duty-bound to come to grips with an issue that was keenly felt among very large numbers of diaspora Jews, especially in the U.S.

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