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A Tempest in the Knesset

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The Aguda Israel party has stirred a tempest in the Knesset and is threatening to quit the unity coalition government for what it claims is lack of consideration for the concerns of Orthodox Jews on the part of Labor and Likud.

Menachem Porush, one of the Aguda’s two Knesset members, said Thursday that his party had suffered “the last straw.” Israel Radio reported that Aguda has been ordered to leave the coalition by two of its most venerable sages, the Hasidic Rabbi of Gur and Rabbi Eliezer Schach. They also ordered the party’s other MK, Avraham Shapiro, to resign his post as chairman of the Knesset’s Finance Committee.

There was no official confirmation of these reports and Porush did not specify his party’s grievances. But they are believed to stem in part from disciplinary action taken against him for abusive remarks from the Knesset floor against Knesset Speaker Shlomo Hillel. Porush was suspended from five consecutive plenary sessions after he refused to apologize to the Speaker.

ANGER OVER A TEHIYA MOTION

Aguda’s ire was also raised by a motion introduced in the Knesset last week by Geula Cohen of the ultra-nationalist Tehiya Party urging the government to abolish deferral of military service for yeshiva students. Cohen also demanded that all women be required to do military service or some form of national service. Tehiya is an opposition party.

Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, replying for the government, cited the long-standing status quo that relieves yeshiva students from military duties and exempts Orthodox women from service. But Rabin obviously agrees in principle with Cohen on this matter and did not conceal it in his remarks, further arousing the Aguda’s anger.

The contretemps with Porush stemmed from a recent debate over religious-secular tensions in Israel. The Aguda MK was offended by remarks by Hillel critical of religious zealots who have been vandalizing bus shelters because they object to what they consider “lewd” advertising posters.

Porush accused the Speaker of “incitement against ultra-Orthodox “Jews” and used what other MKs described as “unbridled and slanderous language.” It was deleted from the Knesset record but later published in the press. Aguda is a minor party and the only coalition party which, owing to its religious doctrine, does not sit in the Cabinet. Nevertheless, given the delicate political balance in the coalition, its defection could be troublesome.

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