Coalition Crisis Erupts over Funds Set Aside for Ultra-orthodox Schools
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Coalition Crisis Erupts over Funds Set Aside for Ultra-orthodox Schools

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The government withdrew its annual budget bill from the Knesset agenda Tuesday because of a dispute among the religious parties in the coalition that could lead to its collapse and early elections.

Officials said the move seriously impaired the parliament’s ability to prepare the budget for its second and third readings in the plenum, originally planned for early next year.

The budget measure passed its first reading with the support of several left-wing opposition factions and would probably fare as well in its final readings, thereby preserving the Likud-led government.

But Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir obviously does not relish the idea of being sustained in office with the help of the left-wing Citizens Rights Movement, Mapam party and Center-Shinui Movement.

The National Religious Party, which has five seats in the Knesset, advised Shamir that it will not support the budget bill as long as it contains “special funding” for schools operated by the haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, parties.

The haredi bloc — Shas, Agudat Yisrael and Degel HaTorah — which commands 13 votes in the Knesset, vowed to oppose the budget if their “special allocations” are omitted.

All of the parties are Orthodox. The NRP, unlike the haredi factions, is affiliated with Mizrachi, the religious Zionist movement.

NRP WILL ‘FIGHT TO THE END’

The issue of special subsidies for haredi institutions has been a source of public controversy and political strife for years. The NRP blames it for bringing down hatred on the entire Orthodox establishment.

It proposes that the religious school system be funded out of the general budget, to ensure fair allocations and proper supervision.

Haredi politicians charge the NRP with political motives and accuse it of mounting the most violent attack “on the education of Jewish children since the evil decrees of the Romans.”

Education Minister Zevulun Hammer, an NRP veteran, said he was unfazed by the haredi attack and vowed his party would “fight to the end” against special privileges.

He said there was no chance this year of “buying off” the NRP with “special funds” for its own Torah institutions.

Moreover, Hammer thinks it would be no great tragedy if the elections, scheduled to be held next November, are advanced. The worst that could happen is that the people will vote a few months sooner, he said.

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