Labor Convention Sees Party Divided on Religion, Golan

Israel’s Labor Party ended the first session of its national convention Thursday night deeply divided on two highly emotional issues — the role of religion in national affairs and a Golan Heights settlement freeze.

The old-guard party leadership was stunned Thursday when the convention adopted a resolution supporting religious pluralism.

The party’s so-called radicals engineered a winning 390-302 majority for a resolution providing for the separation of church and state and for a constitutional guarantee of religious pluralism.

Religious pluralism in Israel does not refer to non-Jewish faiths, which are recognized in the Jewish state, but to the Reform and Conservative branches of Judaism, which are not.

The Labor Party’s resolution would effectively dismantle the present state-subsidized religious establishment, monopolized by Orthodox Judaism.

There was a swift outcry among Labor stalwarts, not only from the four Orthodox political parties firmly aligned with Likud in the governing coalition, but from Labor Party members who identify themselves as Orthodox or “traditional” Jews.

The Labor leadership looks hopefully to the religious parties as possible partners in a Laborled coalition government. Party leader Shimon Peres said the resolution would gravely damage Labor’s image, prospects and standing with its religious supporters.

In fact, the leadership had been successful in defeating a move to endorse civil marriage in Israel, but was unable to stop the resolution for religous pluralism.

Opponents to the resolution were promptly assured the resolution would be revoked, by the “troika” at the head of the party: Peres, No. 2 leader Yitzhak Rabin and Yisrael Kessar, secretary-general of Histadrut, the powerful trade union federation that has always been the seat of Labor Party strength.

Peres said he was sure the resolution would be rescinded when the convention meets for its second session a month from now.

On the resolution calling for a freeze on settlement in the Golan, the leadership’s response was less unified. The resolution was adopted by a margin of about 40 votes, with some 1,300 delegates casting ballots.

Negative reaction came from Labor Party members who live on the Golan Heights and activists of the Kibbutz movement, another source of Labor strength.

A public meeting was held Saturday, at Katzrin in the Golan, at which the Labor-affiliated United Kibbutz Movement was urged to build a new Golan settlement immediately to demonstrate its dissociation from the resolution.

Some at the meeting threatened to leave the party unless the resolution is abrogated officially or ignored in practice. But the Labor leadership, including the hawkish Rabin, is on record in support of the party’s platform, which endorses territorial compromise for peace.

That includes the Golan Heights, which Israel has annexed, no less than the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which it administers.

Rabin affirmed that position, saying he favored “a compromise, territorial or otherwise,” on the Golan, adding that territorial concessions would be “in kilometers, not centimeters.”

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