Coalition crisis brewing over matza bill

Israel Beiteinu announces refusal to support amendment to bill which Shas insists on passing.

matza 298.88 (photo credit: )
matza 298.88
(photo credit: )

A coalition crisis appeared to be developingSunday after Israel Beiteinu announced that it refused to support anamendment to the Matzot Law (Prohibition of Leavened Food) which Shasinsists on passing.

Duringa meeting of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, which wasexpected to approve the bill, Public Security Minister YitzhakAharonovitch (Israel Beiteinu) announced that his party regarded thelegislation as changing the religious status quo.

As such, it required the support of all the coalition partiesin order to be approved by the government, he said, and Israel Beiteinuhad veto power over it.

The committee decided to postpone the vote on the bill for two weeks to give the two parties time to negotiate.

Lastweek, the interministerial committee conditionally approved a billsponsored by a group of MKs headed by Othniel Schneller (Kadima). Thewording of Schneller's bill was meant to be more palatable tonon-Orthodox Jews and was, in fact, accepted by Shas.

According to Schneller's compromise, the law was to say thatbread and other hametz (leavened) products could not be sold "inpublic" (betzibbur) rather than "publicly" (befumbi) as it currently states.

Thedemand for the change in wording came in the wake of a 2008 decision byJerusalem Local Affairs Court Judge Tamar Ben-Asher, who ruled that"publicly" meant on the street or in places not privately owned.

By thus interpreting the word, Ben-Asher declared that it waslegal to sell hametz in restaurants, grocery stores and supermarkets,which are enclosed and privately owned.

Enraged by the ruling, Shas drafted a bill which called fordeleting the word "publicly" altogether and not replacing it withanything else. But Schneller and others feared that the amendment couldbe interpreted to mean that it would be illegal to eat hametz even inthe privacy of one's home.

Therefore, they added the words "in public," which included adefinition clarifying that the term referred to any place where thepublic gathers.

Shas agreed to this change.

Israel Beiteinu, however, insists on leaving the law as is.

"There is no need to change it," Aharonovich's media adviser told The Jerusalem Post. "As things are now, no injury is caused to the religious feelings of anyone if hametz is sold inside a building."

He quoted Aharonovich as saying, "Shas isn't interested in burning the hametz. It wants to burn the coalition."

But MK Avraham Michaeli, the sponsor of the Shas bill, told the Post that the amendment was restoring the status quo rather than changing it.

"We were forced to make this amendment because of the court'sdecision," he said, adding that it was clear all along that the law wasmeant to prevent the sale or consumption of hametz in all places wherethe public gathered and not just on the street.

In her ruling, said Michaeli, Ben-Asher even said as much, bywriting that to get that message across, the wording should be changedfrom "publicly" to "in public."

Michaeli charged that Israel Beiteinu's opposition to the amendment was politically motivated.

"Whenever Shas raises some issue or takes the lead on somematter, there are those who oppose it just because it is Shas. They arenot willing to discuss the question in a logical way," he said.

When asked if he understood that a large part of the IsraelBeiteinu constituency was made up of immigrants from the former SovietUnion, some of whom were not Jewish and others who were completelysecular, Michaeli replied, "That's even worse. This is a Jewish state."