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Peres Making Last-ditch Effort to Stop Agudah from Joining Likud

Labor Party Chairman Shimon Peres is making a last-ditch effort to dissuade the Orthodox Agudat Yisrael Party from joining the Likud-led coalition government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

Peres reportedly asked the Agudah leadership to at least postpone a decision until Labor has another try at bringing down the government by a no-confidence vote in the Knesset.

Its latest motion last week failed by seven votes.

Agudah’s Council of Torah Sages, which rules the party, is scheduled to meet Wednesday night on the issue.

Likud sources are confident that the deal they have put together with Agudah politicians during months of negotiations will be approved and that a formal signing of coalition agreements will take place at the end of the week.

Likud admits it had to make important concessions to the religious party, such as stricter enforcement of Sabbath observance and a ban on what the pious consider “licentious” advertising.

But bringing Agudah’s four Knesset seats into the ranks of the Likud coalition is expected to help stabilize Shamir’s precariously narrow regime, which is entirely dependent on the clerical parties and parties of the extreme right.

At the very least, Agudah’s presence might help Shamir weather the internal storms besetting his coalition.

At least three of his junior partners are threatening to bolt the government.

Shas, the largest Orthodox party, is split on the issue. Two of its five-man Knesset faction want to secede because of the continuing investigation of Interior Minister Aryeh Deri for allegedly misappropriating government funds.

The far right-wing Tsomet party, headed by former Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan, has given the government a two-week deadline to push a reform bill through the Knesset to elect the prime minister by direct vote.

Rehavam Ze’evi, another retired IDF general who heads the even more extreme Moledet Party, is reportedly anxious to see Shamir’s government fall and new elections called.

Ze’evi is said to be convinced that given the sharp shift to the right in Israel’s highly polarized society, his two-man faction stands to benefit significantly from elections now.

But even if Agudah joins Shamir’s government, the party is hardly a rock of stability. Each of its four Knesset members is said to represent a separate faction.

The strongest one, the “central faction,” consists of the Gerer Hasidim, whose leader, Rabbi Simcha Bunim Alter, the Gerer rebbe, is over 90 years old and too sick to participate in political affairs.

His faction is split over his successor. One group favors the rebbe’s son, Rabbi Ya’acov Alter, who is said to prefer an Agudah alliance with the Labor Party instead of Likud.

Another group supports the rebbe’s brother, Rabbi Pinhas Menachem Alter, who prefers Likud.

Among the party’s other key rabbinical figures, the Vishnitzer rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager, reportedly wants to join Shamir’s coalition, but the Hasidic rebbe of Sadagora, a smaller sect centered in Tel Aviv, is pro-Labor.

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