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Shas Relations with Likud Sour over Remark by Finance Minister

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Relations between the ruling Likud party and its Orthodox coalition partner Shas, already strained over a police investigation of Interior Minister Arye Deri, have worsened in recent days following an insensitive remark made by Finance Minister Yitzhak Moda’i.

The Likud minister reportedly told a group of mayors last week he would not extend credit to the Interior Ministry and certain of its institutions even if Deri let him rape his wife.

Modai denied making the remark, but others confirmed he said it, leading a Cabinet colleague to question the finance minister’s sanity.

Gideon Patt, the tourism minister and, like Moda’i, a member of Likud’s Liberal faction, said, “We all know Moda’i and his weaknesses, his inability to control his tongue. I am sometimes more surprised when he makes sensible statements.”

Deri, a rising star in Shas, has rejected Moda’i’s denial and refused to shake his hand.

But Shas has withdrawn an earlier threat to abstain or oppose the government in a Knesset vote of confidence scheduled for Monday.

The vote itself may be postponed or abandoned because of the security situation in Jerusalem following the fatal stabbing Sunday morning of three Israelis by a lone Arab assailant.

Nevertheless, Shas’ quarrel with Likud has hardly abated. It stems from the police investigation of alleged financial improprieties on the part of Deri. The police have recommended that Deri be charged on seven counts and are continuing to investigate him.

Shas, whose constituency is largely Sephardic, claims there is no case against the 31-year-old minister. It charges ethnic prejudice on the part of the Likud-controlled police.

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