Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

20 Sivan 5764 - June 9, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Politica: The Countdown Begins

By E. Rauchberger

Having finally won approval for the disengagement plan the Sharon Government has survived the Gaza crisis but clearly the countdown has begun, for in its current composition the government cannot last for long.

According to Livni's compromise plan the issue of evacuating the settlements from the Gaza Strip will not come before the government for another six months. In the meantime the necessary preparations will be made, including legislation and compensation payment proceedings. Sharon has gained time, but not much. When the issue of evacuating settlements is brought for a vote, this government will have reached the end of the line.

Last week Omry Sharon conducted intensive meetings with UTJ and Shas MKs to assess the chances they would support the disengagement plan when it is brought before the Knesset for approval. Omry Sharon made various promises to rectify injustices in funding for religious services and chareidi education, but nothing has been finalized.

Sharon and his staff are taking into account that 15-20 Likud members, or even a few more, will vote against the plan or abstain. To that number are added the 13 MKs from the NRP and HaIchud HaLeumi. If the 16 UTJ and Shas MKs vote against it the number of opponents could reach 50. If another ten MKs from the left decide to vote against the plan Sharon will not have a majority, and even if he does secure a majority of votes he would still lack a majority of the Knesset. Sharon wants a solid majority of at least 61 so he need not rely on Arab MKs and if possible, not on Meretz MKs either.

This is why Omry Sharon initiated contact with UTJ and Shas. The chareidi MKs told him that at this stage there's no chance they would back the Prime Minister when he brings the plan to the Knesset and at most they would abstain. Nevertheless talks are continuing and Omry Sharon is holding onto valuable political prizes with which to reward chareidi MKs for their cooperation.

Plenum Dressed in Sackcloth

Three weeks ago the chareidi MKs took a far-reaching step when they held a demonstration during the plenum, totally disrupting the proceedings. Never in the 16th Knesset have so many MKs been escorted out of the plenary hall one after another within such a short period of time. The drastic move was driven by heartfelt sympathy for the plight of the unpaid religious council workers and the constant assaults on chareidi educational institutions and the Torah world in general. They pledged that would not be the last of such actions if solutions were not found quickly.

In practice, no further demonstrations have taken place. Before stepping up the battle once again the chareidi MKs want to try to make every possible effort to bring about a peaceable solution to the religious council workers' crisis.

Prime Minister's Office Director-General Ilan Cohen, who took over the job just one month ago, asked for some time to study the issue, promising to make every effort to solve the problem. Finance Committee Chairman Avraham Hirshzon also entered the fray, summoning the Finance and Interior Ministers for an urgent meeting.

Asking the chareidi MKs to consider carefully before taking extreme steps once again, Knesset Chairman Reuven Rivlin tried to exert his influence to bring about a solution to the problem. In a departure from the normal Knesset routine he also raised the issue of the religious council workers for a special discussion with the Prime Minister on hand.

In light of all these moves the chareidi MKs agreed to grant a hiatus, but they repeatedly warn time is running out.

At a gathering of chareidi MKs before Shavuos a series of proposals were raised to bring the situation to the media's attention until the government realizes that the thousands of hungry families cannot hold out any longer. The suggestions ranged from denying Sharon access to the Prime Minister's Office--including the possibility of a confrontation with security personnel--to chaining themselves to the gates of the Prime Minister's Office; from blocking streets together with the Chief Rabbi to organizing large demonstrations where rabbonim and religious council workers from across the country would be on hand.

And at a more recent gathering chareidi MKs proposed entering the plenary hall dressed in sackcloth to arouse the public to the dire situation and focus the media spotlight on the scandalous assault on religious services.

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