The governing coalition of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is bracing itself for a no-confidence motion in the wake of controversial remarks that Foreign Minister Peres made in the Knesset last week regarding King David.
The motion, which was introduced by furious Orthodox Knesset members, threatened to be particularly awkward for the ruling Labor Party and its coalition ally, the secularist Meretz bloc.
The government has long been courting the fervently Orthodox Shas Party in efforts to get it to rejoin the coalition. Shas’ inclusion in the government would give the coalition an outright parliamentary majority as it continues with its attempts to forge a peace with the country’s Arab neighbors.
But Shas, which has been fence-sitting for months, was under intense pressure to join with the other Orthodox parties in the no-confidence vote.
Girding up for the vote, which was scheduled to be held this week, Labor and Meretz officials have summoned home all their Knesset members from overseas trips. They have also appealed to the Arab Israeli members of the Knesset to vote against the no-confidence measure.
At the same time, the chairman of the governing coalition, Labor Knesset member Eli Dayan, who is himself Orthodox, has been trying vigorously to persuade Orthodox Knesset members and their rabbinical mentors to make do with a letter of apology already written by Peres and withdraw the no-confidence motion.
The furor erupted on Dec. 14, when Peres addressed the Knesset during a passionate debate about the peace process.
Condemning Israeli occupation as contrary to the heritage of Judaism, the foreign minister was challenged by a rightist Knesset member with the Biblical fact that King David had conducted wars of occupation.
“Not everything that King David did on the ground or on the rooftops is Jewish in my eyes,” Peres shot back.
His reference was to a passage in II Samuel 11, in which King David watched from a rooftop as Bathsheba was bathing. Smitten with her beauty, David sent her husband, Uriah, off to his death in battle and subsequently married her.
Peres’ remark triggered a vociferous and sustained chorus of protest from Orthodox members.
One parliamentarian, Avraham Verdiger of the United Torah Judaism bloc, became so overwrought that he passed out and required medical attention at the Knesset infirmary.
The Orthodox Knesset members later cited Talmudic passages that put David’s actions in a much better light than the literal scriptural account world indicate.
They, along with incensed writers in the Orthodox press, accused Peres of gross disrespect for King David.
For his part, Peres sent a letter last Friday to Israel’s chief rabbis and other religious leaders in which he disclaimed “any intention of insulting the `Sweet Psalmist of Israel'” – the traditional title of Kind David.
But in a declaration published on Sunday, the Chasidic Rebbe of Gur, Rabbi Pinchas Menachem Alter, rejected Peres’ letter as falling far short of a genuine apology.
Alter referred to the foreign minister as “one of those far removed from Torah and mitzvot” and declared that it was his duty to protest loudly against Peres’ conduct.
While the government was expected to squeak past this latest test of its strength in the Knesset, the episode was widely seen as dooming any hopes that Labor would be able to woo Shas back into the coalition.