Wobbly coalition battered in series of Knesset votes

With Olmert away, Kadima holds meeting on future of Jerusalem.

solodkin  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Three successive strikes were made against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's coalition in the Knesset Wednesday, battering the already wobbly government and widening the rift between the two key coalition partners, Shas and Labor. The Kadima Party failed to mediate between their coalition partners on three controversial pieces of legislation, leading to chaos in the plenum and committee rooms where the bills were being debated. "When the prime minister's away, the coalition will play," said a Likud Party spokeswoman, referring to Olmert's current trip to Japan. In addition to the legislative blows on Wednesday, a group of Kadima MKs took advantage of Olmert's absence earlier this week to hold their own meeting on the future of Jerusalem. MK Eli Aflalo, the coalition whip charged with keeping the factions in order while Olmert is away, initiated the Jerusalem meeting. "Olmert has proven that he can patch together a coalition in numbers, but not in practicality," said MK Marina Solodkin, the only Kadima MK who openly opposes Olmert. "The party consistently fails to pull things together in the plenum, and it's not effective at legislating or ensuring government legislature passes." Early Wednesday, Shas succeeded in passing a first reading of their bill to restrict access to "harmful" Internet sites. The bill, which would implement an apparatus to filter out "violence, pornography and gambling" Web sites, passed in a vote of 46 to 20. The bill upset Labor MKs, however, who said that itviolated personal freedom and was yet another appeasement Olmert was making to Shas so they wouldn't bolt the coalition over the peace talks with the Palestinians. MK Gilad Erdan (Likud) said the Labor MKs who voted in favor of the bill were becoming "an apparatus" of the Kadima Party. In a second show of support for Shas, the Knesset's Finance Committee approved the allocation of NIS 475 million to Shas's educational institutions. The move was made as part of a coalition agreement between Shas and Kadima, despite the objections of other coalition partners that the funds were going toward educational systems that were already well-funded, instead of schools that were in more dire straits. "How many concessions are going to be made to Shas to keep it in the coalition?" asked MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor). He suggested that Labor was becoming increasingly frustrated with the legislative concessions and could bolt the government earlier than planned if the Knesset continued to pass bills that supported Shas's conservative stances. As Labor and Shas MKs continued to feud Wednesday, the Likud Party scored another blow against the coalition, passing a bill that would obligate assisting small and medium-sized businesses in the case of war. The bill was aimed at the communities around the Gaza Strip - particularly Sderot - which have faced financial ruin due to the ongoing Kassam attacks on the area. MK Silvan Shalom (Likud), who wrote the bill, said that the bill was meant to provide financial assistance to those communities since the "government was dragging its feet" on the issue. Coalition MKs said deliberations were currently under way to provide support to the residents of Sderot, and Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On (Kadima) said the government would soon be transferring compensation funds to residents there. "We have a genuine desire to assist the business-owners in the town," said Bar-On. "I have ordered the timetable for the compensations be as brief as possible."