Coalition sets up internal religions and state forum

The forum, proposed by Deputy Minister for Religious Services Eli Ben-Dahan, aims to solve government disputes.

July 4, 2013 19:15
2 minute read.
Eli Ben-Dahan

Eli Ben Dahan 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

A small group of coalition MKs have banded together to create an unofficial forum for matters of religion and state in order to put and end to the numerous disputes that have arisen within the government over such issues.

Recent arguments over coalition support for chief rabbi candidates, reforms to the provision of religious services and military burial for non-Jews have led to mutual recrimination and sniping within the government, as well as tit-fortat vetoes against legislation proposed by the different coalition partners.

The new forum, proposed by Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan, will now convene on a regular basis to deliberate on legislation as well as other possible action requiring government attention relating to religion and state.

Along with Ben-Dahan, the other MKs in the forum are Education Minister Shai Piron, Hatnua MK Elazar Stern and Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely of Likud.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Ben-Dahan said that the formation of the forum was an important step in addressing the complicated issues regarding religion in the country as well as harmonizing coalition relations on what can be particularly knotty problems.

Although the new forum will help smooth out some of the concerns requiring government action, disagreement is still likely on some of the more controversial issues such as civil marriage, which is supported by Yesh Atid but opposed by Bayit Yehudi.

And Ben-Dahan noted that the coalition parties were not giving up their right to veto legislation on matters of religion and state, a clause that Bayit Yehudi insisted be part of its coalition agreement with Likud Beytenu.

“I hope we’ll be able to reach agreements on the issues, but if that’s not possible then we will still make use of our veto,” he told the Post.

Regarding civil marriage, the deputy minister said that Bayit Yehudi was still firmly opposed but said it might be possible to reach an arrangement that satisfies at least some of the demands of MKs and independent organizations advocating its institution.

After less than four months of the current government, there have been some particularly bitter rows between coalition partners.

Elazar Stern wanted to pass legislation to increase the size of the chief rabbi electoral committee and reserve 20 percent of its places for women, but the bill was vetoed by Bayit Yehudi, in large part due to the opposition of several rabbis associated with the party.

In revenge, Hatnua stymied several proposed reforms for the provision of religious services devised by Ben-Dahan.

The most recent incident, which was the proximate cause of the establishment of the new forum, was a dispute over military burial for non- Jews.

Stern drafted legislation to change the current practice whereby non-Jewish soldiers are buried apart from their Jewish comrades in military cemeteries, as stipulated by Jewish law, although they are nevertheless interred in the same section of the cemetery.

Bayit Yehudi objected, however, and a vote on the bill in the cabinet was postponed pending further deliberation.

The members of the new forum are hopeful that a compromise will be reached on this matter.

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