Knesset Defeats No-confidence Votes, but with Scant Help from Labor Party

New cracks appeared in Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud-led coalition government Tuesday, when its Labor Party component largely boycotted Knesset votes on six no-confidence motions relating to the peace process.

In any case, the motions, introduced by leftist opposition factions critical of Shamir’s policies, were easily rejected, by a margin of 34-13, with six abstentions.

Only eight Labor members supported the government, most of them associated with their party’s hawkish wing. The rest of the faction “voted with their feet” by staying away from the chamber while the electronic balloting was under way.

The Laborites wanted to express displeasure with what they consider to be Shamir’s uncompromising position on proposed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Cairo. But they were unwilling to wreck the coalition at this time by siding with the opposition.

The absentees got a tongue-lashing from Shoshana Arbeli-Almoslino, a Labor hard-liner, who said avoiding the vote was “unparliamentary.”

Nevertheless, she said she would be willing to reconsider Labor’s participation in the government if, after Shamir’s scheduled visit to the United States next month, there is no progress toward peace.

FIRESTORM OVER MOLEDET REMARK

Those who abstained from voting included members of the ultra-Orthodox party Agudat Yisrael. Its Council of Sages has given the government a two-week ultimatum to make good on religious legislation promised when the party agreed to join the government last year.

Agudah threatens to quit unless the government provides more money for Orthodox schools, tougher enforcement of Sabbath observance and legal action against what the pious consider “immodest” advertisements.

Tuesday’s Knesset session was more stormy than usual because of a racist remark allegedly made by Rehavam Ze’evi, leader of the extreme right-wing opposition party Moledet.

Ze’evi made the remark during a floor argument he was having with Mohammed Miari, an Arab member of the radical left-wing Progressive List for Peace, over how many Arabs and Jews have died in the 22-month-old Palestinian uprising, or intifada.

When Miari said there was no difference between the life of an Arab or a Jew, Ze’evi was reportedly heard in the press gallery to remark: “For every Jew, a thousand Arabs.”

The Knesset’s five Arab members, supported by others, immediately demanded that the Knesset discipline Ze’evi, whose faction advocates the mass transfer of Arabs out of Israel and the administered territories, as part of a negotiated peace settlement.

But Knesset Speaker Dov Shilansky of Likud refused to act, saying he had not heard Ze’evi’s alleged remark. He called for a recess to calm tempers. Later, however, Shilansky ordered the Knesset House Committee to investigate discrepancies in accounts of what Ze’evi had said.

Most of those who heard Ze’evi believe he favored killing 1,000 Arabs for every Jew killed.

Ze’evi said later he meant punishing, not killing. “But if you want a correction of my statement, write 10,000 instead of 1,000,” he told a reporter.

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