Demands of Religious Are Weighed As Coalition Talks Continue
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Demands of Religious Are Weighed As Coalition Talks Continue

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As Likud ministers continued preliminary talks with potential coalition partners Thursday, sources close to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said that he does not intend to give in to every demand made by the religious parties.

But Shamir needs their support to establish a governing majority, which the secular right-wing parties alone cannot give him.

Orthodox politicians for their part say they seek no more than restoration of the religious status quo, the unwritten agreements that have defined relations between observant and non-observant Jews since the state was formed.

Left-liberal circles and much of the news media are expressing profound concern over what they see as a growing movement to change the country into a theocracy.

But Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, and Menahem Porush, veteran Knesset member of the Agudat Yisrael, claim those fears are unfounded.

“We seek only equality and the preservation of the Jewish character of the state,” Porush declared in a radio interview.

Peretz and Avner Shaki, the hard-liner who heads the National Religious Party, insisted on television that they do not demand or support religious coercion in the private lives of citizens.

But a reading of the Orthodox political and social agenda casts some doubt over their plan.

Shas, which won six seats to make it the third largest faction in the Knesset, is expected to seek three Cabinet portfolios in the next government from among the Interior, Housing, Religious Affairs or Education ministries.

Any three of those ministries in ultra-Orthodox hands would assert considerable control over private affairs.


Shas also demands:

* Passage of the “Who is a Jew” amendment to the Law of Return, which would invalidate conversions to Judaism performed by non-Orthodox rabbis.

* Preserving the Jewish character of the state in public.

* A law that would empower local authorities to institute religious by-laws that the courts would uphold. They would affect individual activities and lifestyles.

* Legislation to increase government assistance to large families — the Orthodox have the highest birthrate among Israeli Jews — and enforce public Sabbath observance and other religious rituals.

* The abolition of daylight-saving time, which the strictly observant say throws off their prayer schedule.

The NRP, with five Knesset seats, wants three portfolios, including education and religious affairs.

It insists on:

* The “‘Who is a Jew” legislation and the empowerment law.

* Preserving the Jewish character of the state in public.

* A sweeping new settlement drive in the administered territories, and tougher measures to suppress the Palestinian uprising.

* Material encouragement to increase the Jewish birthrate, and higher subsidies for large families.

Agudat Yisrael, also with five seats, does not seek Cabinet portfolios, but would insist on the director generalships of key ministries.

It also is pushing for:

* “Who is a Jew” legislation.

* Tougher anti-autopsy legislation.

* Tougher enforcement of the law banning abortion for socio-economic reasons.

* Legislation explicitly banning archaeological digs where there might be ancient Jewish burial sites.

* Preserving the Jewish character of the state in public.

The Degel HaTorah party, an Agudat Yisrael breakaway which has one, or possibly two Knesset seats, is demanding:

* “Equal treatment for the Orthodox sector” in education, housing, culture and welfare. It does not insist on “Who is a Jew” legislation.

The “Who is a Jew” measure has infuriated Reform, Progressive and Conservative Jews, who comprise the majority of affiliated Jews in the United States and most other Diaspora countries.

Any Israeli government that attempted to force its passage would be under severe pressure from those sources, with unpredictable outcomes.

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