The Knesset this week approved a bill banning the importation of non-kosher meat and seafood, thereby clearing the way for the fervently Orthodox Shas party to return to the governing coalition.
In marathon sessions before the Knesset recesses for the Passover holiday, Israeli legislators finally voted their approval of the ban at 4:15 a.m. on Wednesday.
Shas officials had been calling for the enactment of the legislation as a precondition for its return to the coalition. Shas left the coalition in the fall when its political leader, former Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, was indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of public trust.
The return of Shas to the coalition is significant because it assures Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of a parliamentary majority of 62 Knesset members. When Shas left the coalition last year, Rabin had to depend on the support of Arab members of the Knesset for a majority.
The measure passed the Knesset two days after Rabin and Deri initialed a new coalition agreement, which is expected to be ratified shortly by the Labor Party and by Shas spiritual leader and former Chief Rabbi Obadiah Yosef.
The bill ran into some last-minute snags earlier this week, when Shas leaders realized that the proposed legislation only banned the import of non-kosher beef. At their insistence, the bill was amended to bar imports of all non-kosher meat and seafood.
The bill came in the wake of a recent government decision to privatize meat imports. Israeli religious leaders had been concerned that privatization would enable businesses to import non-kosher meat.
In order to ban such imports, the Knesset first had to amend one of the basic laws that serve Israeli society in lieu of a constitution. Under the demands of coalition politics, the Labor Party pushed through the change in Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation to permit restrictions on economic freedom rooted in religious values.
This was a blow to the platform of Labor’s left-wing coalition partner, Meretz, which had strongly supported the basic law and advocates the passage of others in order to introduce American-style civil liberties here.
Meretz swallowed the ban on non-kosher meat and even agreed to the shelving of the other proposed basic laws after much deliberation, in order to strengthen the coalition.
But in the actual Knesset roll calls, most Meretz Knesset members voted against the bill, forcing Labor to rely on the votes of the religious parties that intend to remain outside the coalition. Rabin, who this week traveled to the United States, is expected to make additional attempts to woo other religious parties into the coalition when he returns to Israel.
Rabin hopes to have as broad support in the Knesset as possible as he attempts to conclude negotiations successfully with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.