JERUSALEM (Nov. 16)
The ultra-Orthodox Agudat Yisrael party formally severed its ties with Likud on Thursday, declaring the break to be unconditional.
It acted after the Knesset voted overwhelmingly Wednesday for a human rights bill. The Orthodox parties fear such a bill because it provides for a constitutional court which could invalidate religious legislation.
The defection by Aguda and the profound displeasure expressed by other religious factions renewed speculation that the Labor Party could draw Orthodox support for a narrow government to replace its shaky coalition with Likud, although such talks are not expected in the immediate future.
Agudah, which holds five Knesset seats, seceded last week from the Likud-led coalition, complaining that Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir failed to keep promises he made to them when the coalition was formed a year ago.
Agudah politicians made clear it was only a trial separation. They said the party would return to the coalition in two months if it was satisfied that Likud made good on its pledges.
But the divorce is now final, according to the chairman of Agudah’s Knesset faction, Rabbi Moshe Feldman.
Another ultra-Orthodox party, Shas, said it was profoundly hurt. While Shas Knesset member Yair Levy predicted there would not be a formal “divorce,” he said relations with Likud were severely damaged.
Shas leader Arye Deri, the minister of interior, reportedly warned his Likud colleagues Wednesday that the human rights bill would be “a snowball that will eventually bring down this government.”