Aloni Again Rocks Rabin Coalition with Remarks Offending Orthodox

A new wave of infighting has swept over Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s governing coalition in the wake of comments by his ever-controversial education minister, Shulamit Aloni.

Accusing the stridently secular Aloni of once again insulting religious Jews, Israel’s Orthodox parties, including the Shas party within the ruling coalition, are now demanding that she be dismissed from her post.

Aloni, whose rhetoric precipitated a coalition crisis three months ago, stirred up controversy again during a speech to hundreds of Jerusalem high-schoolers Tuesday, in which she referred to the reputed grave in Nablus of the biblical Joseph as “the cave of some sheik Yosef.”

Aloni also referred to the chief rabbis of Israel as “two popes” and said the vast majority of the nation, Orthodox as well as secular, paid little attention to them.

In reply to another question, the minister, who heads the left-wing Meretz bloc, said the Jewish dietary laws of kashrut were originally designed to create a separation between Jews and gentiles. She implied they were no longer relevant or needed in the modern Jewish state.

The Orthodox opposition parties, the National Religious Party and United Torah Judaism, issued blistering attacks on Aloni, but the main threat to the government’s stability is coming from one of its coalition partners, the Shas party.

Shas’ Knesset faction has sent Rabin a letter asking him to transfer Aloni out of the Education Ministry.

The faction chairman, Shlomo Benzeri, blamed Aloni for doing precisely what she has in the past accused prominent Orthodox leaders of doing: “creating hatred and division within the nation.”

Shas nearly left the government in October after Aloni made a series of similarly controversial remarks. Rabin promised at the time to “take action” if such incidents recurred, and Shas leaders reminded the premier of that commitment this week.

NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION POSSIBLE

Further exacerbating the rift between Shas and its coalition partners was a ruling Wednesday by the High Court of Justice that construction on a road affecting ancient Jewish burial caves should proceed.

If tension between religious and secular forces heat up over both these issues, the Shas party will find itself under increasing pressure within the Orthodox camp to break ranks with its two coalition partners, Labor and Meretz.

The United Torah Judaism party has threatened to submit a no-confidence measure in the Knesset over Aloni’s comments.

Aloni tried to defuse the crisis by claiming she was being quoted out of context by reporters seeking to stir up conflict. She charged she is the victim of a McCarthy-style campaign against her and that, while she respects religious freedom, she also wants to be granted freedom of speech.

Energy Minister Amnon Rubinstein of Meretz defended Aloni, saying her comments about the Nablus tomb were not anti-Orthodox since there was no Orthodox tradition identifying the site with Joseph.

Rubinstein explained that Aloni had been attacking not the fervently Orthodox haredim, but the nationalist-Orthodox circles of Gush Emunim for instigating trouble in the administered territories. Shas is a haredi party that is dovish on the territories, whereas the opposition NRP is closely identified with Gush Emunim.

In her speech, Aloni noted that a celebration at the Nablus site in the West Bank had caused a 24-hour curfew to be imposed on some 120,000 local Palestinians. “Is that human rights?” she asked rhetorically.

Knesset member Ran Cohen of Meretz said his party would oppose removing Aloni from her post at any cost.

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