Labor: No majority for plan to revive Religious Affairs Ministry

Israel Beiteinu and Labor ministers will oppose the move in Sunday's cabinet meeting and in Monday's vote at the Knesset.

paz pines 298 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
paz pines 298 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
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 services." 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."