Coalition crisis cooking over who says what’s kosher

On matters of religion and state, this coalition is just as divided as its predecessors.

Israeli Knesset members arguing in parliament. (photo credit: KNESSET CHANNEL)
Israeli Knesset members arguing in parliament.
(photo credit: KNESSET CHANNEL)
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented his narrow coalition of 61 Knesset members, his associates found solace in how cohesive the government is.
That may be true on security issues, in which Netanyahu will be given leeway to make key decisions on his own, and socioeconomic matters, in which Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon is expected to be one of the most powerful and unfettered finance ministers in the country’s history.
But on matters of religion and state, this coalition is just as divided as its predecessors.
That became clear over the weekend amid the controversy over the alternative kashrut bill presented by Shas MK Yoav Ben-Tzur. The bill would give the Chief Rabbinate a monopoly over kosher certification, bypassing a ruling by Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein that alternative certification can be provided if the word “kosher” is not used.
Shas tried to bypass regular parliamentary procedure and expedite the legislation, with Shas leader Arye Deri warning in closed conversations that this would be “the first coalition crisis of Netanyahu’s new government” if the bill did not pass.
Bayit Yehudi MKs fought among themselves, leaving it to Kulanu to block the bill. After Kulanu ministers succeeded in getting the bill postponed in the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, Shas ministers did the same to a bill initiated by Kulanu faction chairman Roy Folkman that would have required the government to pay its independent suppliers within 30 days.
Shas officials said after the committee meeting that next week they would pass the bill, which they said was part of the coalition agreement reached with Netanyahu before the formation of the government.
They said the bill was necessary to prevent the public from being tricked on what is kosher.
MK Rachel Azaria, the founding head of Jerusalem’s Yerushalmim Party, who is in charge of matters of religion and state in the Kulanu faction, is a close ally of Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz, a pioneer in alternative kashrut certification, who replaced her on the Jerusalem City Council when she entered the Knesset.
Azaria said she tried to reach a compromise with Shas but has not succeed yet, so the bill was postponed. She expressed confidence that she could reach an agreement both parties could live with.
“The current wording of the bill would harm many businesses,” Azaria said. “It would be a gross violation of the status quo on matters of religion and state.
Making it a crime to get a certificate that is not from the [Chief] Rabbinate is unacceptable and not sensible.”
Leibowitz, who heads the Hashgaha Pratit alternative kosher certification service, said he was happy about the delay but that he is still hoping to receive clarity from the Knesset.
“It’s not a bill that is coming to protect kashrut or the consumers but to strengthen the political and financial monopoly of the haredim [ultra-Orthodox],” Leibowitz said. “They have a stranglehold over the public.”
Leibowitz praised Azaria for crafting a platform for Kulanu that protects kosher consumers.
He said he hopes Bayit Yehudi would decide to do the same.
“I am concerned that these attempts at political thievery will continue,” Leibowitz said.
“They will attempt to change the game under the guise of the status quo. There has been corruption and malpractice. This bill would only make things worse.”