JERUSALEM> (Jun. 16)
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir tried to calm tempers Sunday as thousands of kibbutziks and their supporters demanded that he fire Absorption Minister Yitzhak Peretz for insulting the kibbutz movement. They were backed by at least one Cabinet minister and more than a few Knesset members.
Peretz, an Orthodox rabbi, stirred a furious controversy when he accused kibbutzim on television last week of turning immigrants from Morocco and other Arab countries away from religious Judaism in the 1950s.
He claimed that caused the high crime rate among Sephardic Jews, who happen to be the most derived socio-economic class in Israel.
Peretz was objecting to the temporary housing of several hundred recent slim from Ethiopia at what he called “godless kibbutzim.”
He aroused the wrath of, among others, Mooki Tsur, secretary of TAKAM, the United Kibbutz Movement, and Rehavam Ze’evi, a minister without portfolio who is leader of the far right-wing Moledet party.
Thousands of kibbutz members and supporters from over the country streamed into the amphitheater at Kibbutz Shefayim for a solidarity rally Sunday. Among many public figures seen in the crowd was Shimon Peres, chairman of the opposition Labor Party, and Tehiya Knesset member Gershon Shaft.
A smaller demonstration was held Sunday outside the Prime Minister’s Office. Several dozen youths demanded that Peretz resign.
The Histadrut Central Committee also demanded Sunday the Shamir dismiss Peretz. Yisrael Kessar, secretary-general of the trade union federation, said the recent outburst made him unfit to serve in the government.
Shamir, who needs the religious bloc to keep his governing coalition intact, was able to defuse the conflict at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting because Peretz was conveniently out sick.
SHAMIR CALLS FOR UNITY
In responded to Ze’evi, who demanded that Peretz apologize, Shamir said he could hardly ask for an apology from a minister who was absent.
Nevertheless, Shamir reiterated his regret over Peretz’s remarks, “which caused controversy over aliyah and absorption, an issue we all should be united on.”
He called on all parties to refrain from “unnecessary” internal strife and stressed there is on question of the right of kibbutzim to absorbent to the slim will be observed.
Peretz insisted Sunday that he would not retract his charges. But he said he was ready to talk it over with leaders of the kibbutz movement and claimed he had been misunderstood.
In accusing the secular kibbutzim of enticing immigrants away from “shmad,” which is usually translated to mean conversion to Christianity.
Peretz explained in radio interview Sunday that he used the term in its to cease observing the strictures and mitzvot imposed by the Torah.
Tsur, meanwhile, said he is ready to discuss the issue with Peretz as a rabbi but not before he resigns from the government.