Labor and Likud Trying to Stave off Revolt by Religious Parties

Labor and Likud are expected to put aside their sharp differences to stave off a revolt by the religious parties in their unity coalition government.

Although political observers do not see it as a serious threat, Premier Shimon Peres called on Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, the Likud leader, today for cooperation between the two major coalition partners to kill a non-confidence motion by the religious factions in the Knesset.

The latter, Aguda Israel, Shas, National Religious Party and Morasha, control a grand total of 12 seats in the 120-member parliament. According to observers, the only danger their non-confidence motion poses is that, given the delicate political balance in the coalition, it could snowball for reasons far removed from the religious issues that prompted it.

The four religious factions, meeting yesterday, threatened to introduce their motion next week for three reasons:

They are unhappy over the failure to bring their “Who is a Jew” amendment to the Law of Return up for another vote in the Knesset — it was twice defeated in recent years — and are furious with Peres’ proposal to freeze the divisive issue for 10 years.

They are disappointed that so far they have been unable to stop Brigham Young University from building a new Mormon center adjacent to the Hebrew University campus on Mt. Scopus, a project approved by the Jerusalem municipality; and they are aroused by their failure to force the government to ban Saturday games at the new Ramat Gan football stadium.

The sound and fury of the religous MKs was aimed mainly at Peres. This may have heartened Haim Kaufman (Likud-Herut) who, as chairman of the coalition factions, attended the meeting as an observer. But he apparently was not pleased to hear his religious colleagues demand that Likud exercise party discipline to force its members to support the “Who is a Jew” amendment.

Kaufman is well aware that such a move would trigger a rebellion by Likud Liberals, most of whom are firmly committed to vote against the amendment and have done so in the past.

A SHARPLY DIVISIVE ISSUE

The issue is sharply divisive among both Israelis and Jews abroad. It is strenuously opposed by Reform and Conservative Jewry in the U.S. It is passionately supported by Israel’s Orthodox establishment. Avraham Shapiro of the Aguda Israel Party said he was prepared to forego all governmental special support for religious institutions in Israel “if there is a 20 percent chance of getting the amendment through” the Knesset.

Opposition to the Mormon center is motivated by fear of missionary activity for which the Mormon Church, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, is notorious. But the Mormon representatives here have promised explicitly to desist from proselytizing in Israel. Nevertheless, according to Shapiro, “They are bringing Jesus into Jerusalem.”

UNIVERSAL ABHORRENCE OF KACH PARTY

Although the religious factions are at odds with the much larger secular parties on these issues, they seem to share the almost universal abhorrence of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s racist Kach Party. Kahane introduced his own non-confidence motion in the Knesset yesterday. The religious MKs joined the rest of their colleagues who absented themselves from the chamber while Kahane spoke. They returned to vote against the Kach motion.

Rabbi Eliezer Shach, spiritual leader of the Shas Party, has instructed his followers never under any circumstances to support Kahane on any issue whatsoever.

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