JERUSALEM (Feb. 5)
Coalition discipline prevailed in the Knesset on Tuesday as it voted 61-54 to approve Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s appointment of Moledet party leader Rehavam Ze’evi to the Cabinet, despite strong opposition within the ruling Likud coalition to his extreme right-wing views.
Many of the endorsing ballots were cast by Likud Knesset members who find Ze’evi’s ideas unpalatable and fought his nomination.
But only one member of the party’s 40-member Knesset faction, Benjamin Begin, voted against him.
Foreign Minister David Levy and Health Minister Ehud Olmert absented themselves during the voting, as did Arye Gamliel of the Shas party, a coalition partner.
Likud caucus sources said later that no disciplinary action would be taken against the dissenters.
Ze’evi, an Israel Defense Force reserve major general, gained notoriety at home and abroad for advocating the “voluntary transfer” of 1.5 million Palestinians out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“Transfer” is understood to be a euphemism for expulsion. It is a policy Likud disavows, and Shamir insisted Ze’evi’s entry into the government would in no way change its position in that regard.
But Ze’evi, who for the time being holds no portfolio but will be a member of the powerful ministerial defense committee, declared in an interview after the Knesset vote that he will not back away from what he believes is the only solution to the Palestinian problem.
OPPOSITION FACTIONS WALK OUT
Begin, son of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin and a rising star in Likud’s second generation, said Ze’evi’s entry into the government is “political pollution.”
Uzi Baram of the opposition Labor Party warned that “those who go to sleep with Gandhi will wake up with transfer.”
The thin, wiry Ze’evi has been nicknamed “Gandhi” because of what some perceive to be a physical resemblance to the late Indian nationalist leader, who was a strong proponent of non-violence.
When Ze’evi mounted the Knesset podium Tuesday to take the oath of office, the opposition factions walked out of the chamber en masse.
Two Communist Party members, Tamar Godzansky and Mohammed Nafa, returned carrying yellow Star of David arm patches, symbolizing what they see as the similarity between Ze’evi’s views and Nazi racist policies.
But the demonstration enraged Knesset Speaker Dov Shilansky of Likud, a Holocaust survivor. He accused the two Knesset members of desecrating the Holocaust and ordered them out of the hall.
Ze’evi’s two-seat Moledet faction gives Shamir’s government a comfortable 66-vote margin in the 120-member parliament.