JERUSALEM (Dec. 29)
The Rabin government suffered yet another indignity this week as the Knesset hunkered down Thursday evening for the traditional long last night of the fiscal year to vote on the 1995 budget bill.
The difficulties facing the governing coalition surfaced when Finance Minister Avraham Shohat announced to the Knesset that he was withdrawing the “Economic Arrangements Bill” — a measure that always accompanies the budget bill — because of a stubborn rebellion within Labor ranks.
The leader of the rebellion was none other than the chairman of the Labor coalition, Knesset member Eli Dayan — and he announced his resignation as coalition chairman in light of his actions.
The issue was education. Dayan, together with Knesset member Rafael Edri and several other Laborites, is demanding that the new budget package provide for a longer school day — lasting until 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. — for children living in development towns and other depressed areas.
Currently, school ends at midday for most of the country’s pupils, though Orthodox schools maintain longer hours in order to provide both religious and secular subjects.
“This government has brought about a revolution in education,” Dayan declared Thursday, citing major budget raises for education over the past two years.
“The long school day would clinch the revolution,” he added. “It would immeasurably help raise standards where they need raising most.”
But Shohat firmly opposed Dayan’s scheme.
SHOHAT FLATLY REJECTS COMPROMISE
By way of compromise, Dayan proposed that the coalition support an amendment to the Economic Arrangements Bill that would enact the long school day in principle — with details to be announced before Sept. 1, 1995, the start of the next school year.
But Shohat, anxious to protect the government’s economic resources, flatly rejected even that proposal, and angrily stormed into the Knesset plenary session to announce the withdrawal of the bill. This left Dayan and his group without a measure onto which to attach their amendment, which the opposition parties were enthusiastically waiting to support.
Knesset experts said the government has the right to introduce the Economic Arrangements Bill again after seven days have elapsed.
Constitutionally, failure to carry the bill — as opposed to a failure to pass the budget bill itself — does not require a government to resign.
Nevertheless, the finance minister’s step is unprecedented, and reflects the depths of discord within the ruling Labor Party and the worsening state of the coalition.
Some Laborites were discussing openly the idea of Rabin resigning and putting together a new Cabinet team. Likud does not have the numbers to form a government under its own leadership.
Dayan’s critics, both in the party and outside, cited Israel’s new American-style system of open primaries as the real reason for Dayan’s aggressively high-profile radicalism.
Under this system, candidates for Knesset are elected directly by party members rather than chosen by party leaders.
Many of these crities, indeed, argued that Dayan’s actions were likely to be repeated by other headline-hungry Knesset members in all the parties as the next elections, which must be held by November 1996, loom closer.
Education Minister Amnon Rubinstein, who is the leading academic authority on constitutional law, bemoaned the adoption of the primaries system “without proper public discussion.”
He said this was tantamount to a major constitutional revolution — “but a revolution for the worse,” as he described it. “The new system for electing the prime minister by direct vote was thoroughly debated in the public arena, but the primaries system was adopted almost overnight,” he said.
Dayan himself denied his motives are political, saying he would be happy for his proposal to become law without earning any political points for himself.
“Even politicians have to know when to fight for an issue of principle,” Dayan said Thursday evening, noting that the long school day was part of Labor’s 1992 election platform.
Shohat, for his part, said he does not oppose the long school day, but wants to introduce it gradually, in accordance with the capacity of schools and education authorities to adapt to it.
He said the present physical state of many schools made it simply impossible for pupils to stay in them for eight hours at a stretch at the height of the summer or the depths of the winter.