On the Eve of the Labor Party Convention: Platform Planks on Religious Issues Are Drastically Toned

With a coalition crisis looming which could dissolve the Labor-Likud unity government and force Labor to seek alliances with the religious factions in order to continue to govern, the Party — on the eve of its convention, opening in Jerusalem Tuesday night — has drastically toned down platform planks calling for religious pluralism in Israel and repeal of religious-inspired measures many Israelis consider oppressive. (Related coalition crisis story, P.2.)

The revision of the platform on the issue of the State and religion was forced by Premier Shimon Peres who reportedly asked members of the subcommittee who drafted it, “Do you want to stick to your principles and sit in the opposition? Or would you rather phrase your principles in general terms and stay in the government?”

The original draft, reflecting the Labor Party stance when it was in the opposition, was defeated by a 44-27 vote in the convention preparations committee.

One article angrily rejected by Peres because it would alienate the Orthodox factions stated that “The Labor Party regards all the trends in Judaism as of equal standing” and would resort “if necessary to legislation” to uphold that principle.

DELETIONS FROM ORIGINAL DRAFT

The revised version merely states that the Party would act to strengthen the unity of the Jewish people “through recognition of the religious pluralism” in Judaism. There is no mention of legislation.

Another article expunged from the draft pledged the party to act “if necessary through legislation” to solve problems of a personal nature which are under the jurisdiction of religious courts. Instead, the platform says the Labor Party will abide by the status quo regarding the authority of the religious courts on marital law.

Also deleted from the original draft are articles that called for reversal of measures introduced during the tenure of the ninth Knesset — the Likud administration of Premier Menachem Begin.

These included the abolition of national service for religious young women; abrogation of abortion rights; and severe restrictions on autopsies. In addition, the new draft platform omits past Labor commitments to allow rabbis “of all trends” to register marriages.

Liberal circles in the party believe that apart from fudging on principles, Peres’ position is simply wrong in political terms. According to Haim Zadok, chairman of the platform subcommittee, when it comes to coalition negotiations with the religious parties, the wording of the platform is irrelevant. Other Laborites pointed to recent public opinion polls which showed wide support among the electorate for easing restrictive measures imposed by the religious establishment.

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