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Israelis by the Thousands Rally to Press for Electoral Reform

Israelis of varying political persuasions made it clear this weekend that they are fed up with the system of proportional representation that allows small parties to wield disproportionate power in the Knesset.

Tens of thousands of members and supporters of the Labor Party and Likud, and parties to the right and left of them, demonstrated in a driving rain storm here Saturday night for swift overhaul of the political machinery.

Assembled in Malchei Yisrael Square, they urged Labor and Likud, the two largest political parties, to join forces in a temporary emergency coalition government.

It would be in office for no more than six months and its sole purpose would be to enact electoral reform. The present election system based on party lists would be replaced by direct constituency elections.

The mass rally was called by the Public Committee for a Constitution for Israel and the Committee of Concerned Citizens.

Although attendance was below the hoped for 100,000, that was attributed to the bad weather and the relatively little advance publicity given the rally.

But its size nevertheless was substantial. The banners and slogans demonstrators carried along with their umbrellas made evident the deep revulsion felt by secular Jews in Israel over the price the ultra-Orthodox parties are demanding for their participation in a new coalition government.

79-SEAT MAJORITY

The big surprise of the Nov. 1 elections was the strength shown by the religious parties. They emerged with 18 Knesset seats among them, making it virtually impossible for either Labor or Likud to establish a government without them.

There are bitter rivalries and feuds within the ultra-Orthodox bloc. But it seems united in trying to impose religious observance and customs on the non-observant population and to redefine who is a Jew by enacting legislation that could alienate much of Diaspora Jewry from Israel.

Premier Yitzhak Shamir reportedly promised the religious parties Friday that if they joined Likud in forming a government, he would obtain passage of “Who Is a Jew” legislation within three months.

The idea of electoral reform is not new in Israel. But it has been blocked until now by the many small parties. Labor and Likud, with a combined total of 79 Knesset seats, could in theory enact reforms in a temporary coalition set up for that purpose.

Speakers at the rally included such diverse public figures as peacenik Abie Nathan and reserve Gen. Rafael Eitan, leader of the far right-wing Tsomet party.

Eitan said that although a constituency election might make it harder for small factions such Tsomet to win Knesset seats, it is essential to elect a stable government that would not need to pay “blackmail” in order to govern.

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