Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

28 Shevat 5761 - Febuary 21, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment

by E. Rauchberger

Ideology and Portfoliology

The unity government in the making will be based on concessions by the two leading parties. The Labor Party, it appears, has given up its ideology, while the Likud will give up portfolios in order to bring in the Labor Party and establish its power.

Last week, during a meeting of One Israel, Dalia Itzik said the Likud would very much like to have them in the coalition, for the same reason that they needed to bring in the Likud not long ago, but lacked the sense to realize it at the time.

Sharon and his advisors know that without a unity government, and without the Labor Party, they have no chance of remaining in power for more than a few months -- or a year at the most -- and meanwhile Binyamin Netanyahu is waiting in the wings.

In order to complete his term in office, Sharon has made an unusual, but not unreasonable, move. He is planning to give up portfolios, on condition that the Labor Party gives up its ideology. For Sharon, ideology was a more pressing issue, based on an assumption that the Labor Party can be bought by dangling desirable portfolios in before it.

This ploy, barring a last minute mishap, is going to work, according to Avi Yechezkel, who resigned from the negotiating team, and Yossi Beilin. Labor has decided to let go of its assets and its ideology in favor of portfolios, and to stop Burg.

Efforts to stop Avraham Burg have united almost all of Labor's senior officials. From Ehud Barak, Burg's great rival, to Binyamin Ben Eliezer, who has already announced that he will run against Burg for the leadership of the Labor Party, to Haim Ramon, Burg's close friend until a short time ago, and now a tough rival.

All three of these figures, and perhaps other senior officials, need time. Barak really does think he will regain control over the Labor Party once the storm has subsided; Binyamin Ben Eliezer sees himself as a worthy candidate to head the Labor Party, but needs time to organize his camp and overcome party stalwarts; Haim Ramon, who used to think that Barak's legacy would fall into his hands like a ripe apple, now looks upon his friend Burg in despair and disbelief, and needs time to rehabilitate his standing within the party if he wants to have a chance at the Labor Party leadership.

The opposition party has no time to spare. If Labor positions itself as an opposition party, primaries will have to be held within a period of three to four months, or six months at the most. This is exactly what Burg wants. The sooner the race begins, the less time his rivals will have to prepare, and the better his chances of winning.

On the other hand, if they join the government and take portfolios, including two important ministries, such as the Defense Ministry and the Foreign Ministry, there will be no need to rush to hold primaries. With desirable portfolios in hand, there will also be no rush to elect a chairman, since when Labor works in cooperation with the Prime Minister, there is no need to select a leader to take command and to offer an alternative. Meanwhile, as ministers, and Ben Eliezer and Ramon will serve as ministers, they will garner strength, will continue to hand out important positions and funds, and will amass power that will help them to run for office in the future.

The Labor Party expects to receive seven or eight appointments, and almost all of the current Labor ministers will maintain their positions, except those who are uninterested in serving under another government, such as Yossi Beilin and Shlomo Ben Ami, and those who don't deserve a portfolio when the political map gets too crowded, such as Barak appointee, Yuli Tamir, and Michael Melchior, who represents Meimad with only one mandate.

Ministers who will remain in their posts include Matan Vilnai, Haim Ramon, Beige Shochat, Binyamin Ben Eliezer, Dalia Itzik, Shimon Peres, Ra'anan Cohen and perhaps Ehud Barak, as well, depending on whether he has his heart set on the defense portfolio or whether he sticks to his word for a change, and resigns from the Knesset and from political life.

Having Barak in the Defense Ministry is to Sharon's advantage in several ways. If he manages to quell terrorism and bring back stability, Sharon will take the credit and in so doing, demonstrate that he has kept his promise to restore peace and order. If Barak fails, Sharon can always lay the blame on him, and come away relatively clean, without having to pay the full price for failure.

The Chairman and the Throne

Last Tuesday, the secretary for the Likud faction stepped into the office of Knesset chairman, Avraham Burg. "Back again to check my chair to see whether it wobbles?" he asked her. "Don't worry. It's perfectly strong. You have no chance of getting your hands on it. You might as well forget about it," he said.

This was just minutes after a meeting with the Knesset press corps in which he announced his plans to maintain his position come what may, and as a seasoned politician who knows his arithmetic, he is well aware that his future depends on just one faction and its 17 mandates--Shas.

Did Burg promise something to Shas in exchange for its continued support, even if the government is replaced and Labor is not brought into a unity government? It is hard to be sure, but in all likelihood, the answer is no. What is certain is that Burg has already paid Shas and strengthened his position in a way that leaves no room for ambiguity. After election day the Likud has no chance of replacing Burg, whether it has a narrow coalition or plenty of votes to spare.

On that Tuesday the Knesset voted on the Early Prisoner Release Law in a third reading. After the results of the vote were announced, with the law passing by a single vote, Ofir Pines (One Israel) filed an appeal, claiming that Yuli Edelstein's vote was counted, although Burg had declared that the Israel B'Aliya's vote not be counted after he entered the Knesset chamber too late.

Any other Knesset chairman from the Labor Party would have taken a few minutes to check the protocol and would have seen that he did, in fact, issue instructions not to count Edelstein's vote, and therefore the results should be changed to a tie, and the law should not be ratified. He could also have chosen to call for a new vote, in which the law would have had no chance of passing following the subsequent storm brewing.

Burg, however, adopted a different approach. He held several hours of consultations, watched the videotape of the proceedings time after time and examined the protocol over and over again. It looked as if he was searching for a way to confirm the results and to include Yuli Edelstein's vote, a way that was eventually found, to the jubilant shouts of Shas MK's, and no efforts to hide behind the Knesset's legal advisor or any other figure would have made a difference.

Burg himself, of course, was very angry when he heard the talk about a deal allegedly worked out between him and Shas.

There probably was no deal and no discussion. But Burg, who would like to remain Knesset chairman, and even more, to be nominated chairman of the Labor Party, and eventually Prime Minister, is perfectly aware of Shas's power, both in the Knesset and in the street, and knows that he needs them.

Burg has presented himself as innocent, fair and clean handed. This could be, but his decision to remain Knesset chairman, to cling to the throne without considering the fact that the Prime Minister has been replaced and the rule has changed, smacks of a lack of common sense and a lack of propriety--as if no other man has ever served as Knesset chairman. The chairman has always been a member of the coalition. If a unity government is set up, fine. But if a narrow coalition government is set up, Burg's decision will prove to be clearly undemocratic. And this is certainly not the way to begin campaigning for the party candidacy and the Prime Minister's Office.

It is inconceivable and entirely inappropriate for someone who posits himself as an alternative to the Prime Minister to sit in the chairman's seat during Knesset plenums and run his campaign from there. If a coalition government is set up, Burg will have to abandon the throne, and conduct his campaign as a regular Knesset member, just like the rest of his opponents in the race.

Meanwhile, on all issues related to chareidim and chareidi representation, Burg is making extra efforts to show decency and integrity. Last Wednesday, at a meeting with the Knesset press corps, he explained his behavior during the previous day's vote on the "Deri Law" in light of the criticism lodged against him, saying, "The moment an issue associated with Shas or a chareidi issue is raised in the Knesset, all of the parameters of conduct go up a notch. More hatred, more shouting, more outbreaks and more antagonism. This must be stopped. There should be more dialogue and camaraderie."

Goldschmidt and Chareidi Knesset Members

Knesset Finance Committee chairman, Elie Goldschmidt, who resigned from the Knesset last week, was originally a kibbutznik, and as such, his worldview on religious issues and his attitude toward the chareidi representation in the Knesset was predictably unsympathetic. That is, except in his capacity as Finance Committee Chairman.

Six months ago, Goldschmidt admitted to me that since he began heading the Finance Committee, he had become acquainted with chareidi MK's who were entirely different from his previous conception of them, and his view of chareidi representation had changed from one extreme to the other. "I always believed that all that mattered to the chareidi representatives were their own issues, the chareidi sector, grabbing onto their slice of the pie, and nothing more," Goldschmidt told me. "Now must say I have had a very big and pleasant surprise: the two most outstanding MK's on my committee are Rabbi Gafni and Rabbi Litzman of United Torah Jewry. They attend almost every committee meeting, after having reviewed the issues thoroughly. There have been many meetings at which only the three of us were present. None of the other committee members come to every meeting so thoroughly prepared, no matter what the issue. And of course this applies to non-religious issues as well. They are extremely diligent, and I only wish other representatives, including those from my own party, had a similar attitude toward committee meetings."

Goldschmidt has since stated that the industriousness and commitment shown by the chareidi Knesset members on the committee, have impelled him to devote his attention to the chareidi Knesset members' demands and have encouraged him to consent to their requests for assistance. Rabbi Moshe Gafni said last week that there has never been another secular finance committee chairman who has been so decent and fair toward United Torah Jewry.

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