UTJ skeptical on joining government

MK Ya'acov Litzman, chairman of United Torah Judaism, said Tuesday the chances were slim that his party would join the government coalition. "A state commission of inquiry into the failures of the Kadima government during the war doesn't make the marriage partner any more attractive," Litzman told Radio Kol Chai. "The exact opposite is true." MK Meir Porush (UTJ) said the party had been waiting for more than two months for a response from Kadima on its conditions for entering the coalition, which included reversing cuts in child allowances. Haredi families - UTJ's constituency - were among the hardest hit by the cuts. "There are absolutely no negotiations going on," said Porush. Talk of changes in the coalition heated up Tuesday after coalition chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki threatened during a discussion in the Knesset Finance Committee to eject Labor from the government after two Labor MKs threatened to vote against a 6 percent across-the-board cut - a total of close to NIS 2 billion - for all ministry budgets except defense and social welfare. Litzman, who is the chairman of the Finance Committee, also threatened to vote against the cuts after he discovered disproportionately high cut in budgets for yeshivot, kolelim (yeshivot for married men) and religious councils. The proposed cuts in the yeshiva and religious services budgets, which have been handled through the Education Ministry since the dismantling of the Religious Affairs Ministry, turned out to be close to three times deeper than for other ministries. The Finance Ministry called for a reduction of 6% while the proposed cut for the religious institutions was 15%. Treasury officials present at the committee meeting said that Education Minister Yuli Tamir had recommended the cuts. However Litzman said that Tamir had assured him the cuts would not be made. Litzman told Radio Kol Chai that the 15% cut had been unanimously approved by the cabinet, and blamed Shas Chairman Eli Yishai, who is also Industry, Trade and Labor Minister, for supporting them. Yishai rejected Litzman's claim, saying he had personally reached an agreement with the Finance Ministry to keep the yeshiva budgets unchanged. "I even talked with Litzman about what I had achieved. I am sorry that he does not acknowledge it," Yishai said. He supported the 6% cut despite the blow to social welfare. "During times of war, these decisions must be made to pay for ammunition, reservists' salaries and other military costs. There is no way around it," he said. "But Shas will oppose any cuts in the 2007 budget. Instead we propose using budget reserves, delaying the cut in the value added tax, imposing a special war levy and even increasing the budget deficit," he said.