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Saturday 19 January 2008

Labor: No majority for plan to revive Religious Affairs Ministry

Labor: No majority for plan to revive Religious Affairs Ministry
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will fail to get the cabinet to approve his
plan to recreate the Religious Affairs Ministry, Labor Party officials
said Thursday.
Israel Beiteinu and Labor ministers decided Thursday to oppose the move
in Sunday's cabinet meeting and in Monday's vote at the Knesset.
Kadima and Pensioners Party ministers remained undecided, but at least
one minister from each party was seriously considering voting against
the move.
Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines, who quit the cabinet when Israel Beiteinu head
Avigdor Lieberman joined it, found himself working together with him
against the formation of the ministry, which he called "a political crime."
"The prime minister will do anything to survive Winograd, including
surrendering to Shas by recreating a ministry that is synonymous with
corruption," Paz-Pines said.
Paz-Pines urged Labor MKs to protest the move by not supporting the
government in Monday's no-confidence votes. He called an emergency
meeting of the Knesset Interior Committee that he chairs.
Asked what he thought about working together with Lieberman, Paz-Pines
said, "Even a broken watch is right twice a day."
Shas spokesman Roy Lachmanovitz said that his party had
reached an agreement with Olmert that ensured Kadima's support for the
move. "I'm sure we will have a majority in the cabinet," he said. "Labor
and Israel Beiteinu are making a big deal to gain media attention, but
there is no real reason for their opposition."
Minister-without-Portfolio Yitzhak Cohen (Shas), slated to become
religious affairs minister as a result of the prime minister's decision,
downplayed the importance of the move. "This is a necessary step that
puts an end to a situation where I was responsible but I had no powers,"
Cohen said. "There is no added budget, no added manpower, nothing
substantially different. Those who oppose it show they hate Judaism and
Jewish services. But the vast majority of Israelis do want religious
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, legal adviser to the Israel Religious Action
Committee (Reform), warned that transferring authority to Cohen would
set the stage for corruption.
Said Kariv: "As soon as Cohen receives full powers, he will no longer be
supervised. Norms of public management will be thrown by the wayside.
The temptation to use the portfolio to arrange jobs for his cronies will
be irresistible."
Kariv added that Shas's complete control over the religious affairs
portfolio would also be bad for Reform Judaism in Israel. "There can be
no dialogue between us and Shas," Kariv said. "Until now we had a common
language with the professionals in the PM's office. We reached
agreements regarding the allotment of state-sponsored synagogues for
non-Orthodox congregations. But now the situation is hopeless."
Rabbi Barry Schlesinger, president of the Masorti (Conservative)
Movement's Rabbinic Assembly in Israel, said the religious affairs
ministry had an obligation to provide services to all streams of
Judaism. "But from past experience we know that the public's tax money
was spent to provide for only one segment of the population."
He added: "If the ministry is reinstated, we have to make sure that it
will provide funding for all religions and all streams of Judaism. If
Orthodox institutions receive funding, so should non-Orthodox ones."


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