Likud-led Government Survives Vote of Confidence by Comfortable Margin

Israel’s Likudled government survived a vote of confidence in the Knesset on Monday by a relatively comfortable margin of 57-50 with two abstentions, after a day of behind-the-scenes drama involving two Orthodox parties.

The vote was called on seven motions, submitted by Labor and other opposition parties, assailing the government’s handling of the immigrant absorption process. The motions alleged that the various government ministries dealing with absorption are uncoordinated, placing the historic wave of immigration in jeopardy.

Last month, the government survived a motion of no confidence in its foreign policy by a mere two votes because of opposition within the far-right Moledet party and failure to win support from the entire religious bloc. This time there were no such defections.

Labor Chairman Shimon Peres had met privately over the weekend with the Hasidic rabbis of Vishnitz and Sadagora, in an effort to court the Agudat Yisrael party’s votes and deter it from joining the Likud government, which it has supported while officially remaining in the opposition.

Separately, Labor made secret contacts with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of the Shas party, which is a part of the Likud-led coalition. There was a stretch of hours Monday when it seemed the Sephardic sage would instruct Shas’ five members vote against the government.

Shas has been threatening to quit the government because of the ongoing police investigation of the ongoing police investigation of one of its leaders, Interior Minister Arye Deri, who is accused of misappropriating funds.

SHARON CRITICIZES LABOR PARTY

But during an afternoon meeting at Yosef’s home, the rabbi ordered party members to support the government.

Deri said later he had been instrumental in persuading Yosef and his other colleagues “not to cause political chaos at this time of grave security and diplomatic challenges for Israel.”

But Deri said “the majority” in the party still wants to quit the government. He hinted there might be further crises if the five-month old police investigation were not ended.

Deri said he had argued that to bring down the government now, when the end of the inquiry was in sight, would be interpreted as a move by Shas to thwart the orderly process of law.

Agudat Yisrael’s executive was meeting in Jerusalem during the Knesset debate, to discuss the Likud’s terms for the party’s joining the government. The party’s Knesset members absented themselves from the chamber for the vote.

During the debate, Housing Minister Ariel Sharon castigated Labor for “throwing stones on those who seek to build stone upon stone” to house the Soviet immigrants. “How will you recount this to you grandchildren?” he asked.

Avraham Shohat of Labor said that expectations of a successful aliyah were turning into a disaster as the government failed to implement a coordinated absorption policy.

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