A large majority of the cabinet approved a bill that will
exempt botei knesses from having to pay to lease the
land from the Israel Lands Authority, rejecting a cabinet
recommendation by a team of government ministers headed by
Tommy Lapid not to pass the bill. Now the law can be brought
before the Knesset for approval. The Cabinet debate
highlighted the differences between those who actively oppose
the Jewish religion and those who are merely indifferent.
A sharp debate raged between Prime Minister Sharon and Shinui
ministers when Sharon attacked Lapid and his cohorts for
their opposition to every bill associated with religious
When the bill, an amendment to the Fundamental Budget Law,
was submitted to the Knesset over six months ago, Sharon
decided during a cabinet meeting to set up a ministerial
commission to assess the law.
The commission, headed by Justice Minister Tommy Lapid
(Shinui) and including Ehud Olmert and Meir Shitreet, only
recently submitted its recommendations to reject the bill.
The recommendations contained harsh words against Judaism and
botei knesses in the State of Israel, which Minister
Lapid said take up state lands.
The cabinet spent over an hour deliberating the issue last
week. During the course of the discussion a cutting debate
erupted between Sharon and Lapid, Poraz and Paritzky of
Shinui and Ehud Olmert of the Likud, who joined together in
opposing the law. "Today you give them an exemption from land
lease and tomorrow you'll give them an exemption from
electricity," shouted Minister Poraz. After a decision of
this kind the government would have to grant the same
exemption to mosques, Poraz added, but Sharon replied that
mosques are not built on state lands.
One Shinui minister claimed discounts are given to botei
knesses to allow them to hold seudas and
celebrations at $30 a plate, to which Minister Shitreet
replied, "As far as I know those who do hold celebrations in
the beit knesset are not those who [spend] $30 per
person, but the unfortunate who don't have money to hold the
event in an events hall. Why do you envy all those who hold a
simcha in a beit knesset?"
The Prime Minister also began to fume and lashed out at the
Shinui ministers. "Every time a religious issue is tabled
before the government you immediately stand up and shout.
What do you have against Jews, Judaism and religion?" he
Offended by Sharon's remarks Minister Lapid denied that
Shinui ministers are "haters of religion." The government
ministers were surprised to see Minister Olmert fervently
defending the stance taken by his fellow ministers from
Shinui until the Prime Minister hushed him saying, "Don't
interfere in this, let me handle matters as I see fit."
He then added a barb: "What's with you Olmert, that you've
Eventually Sharon announced he was rejecting the commission's
recommendations and that he was asking for the proposal to be
approved. Sharon added that he was firm in his opinion that
the bill should be passed. "And if I can assist this law or
other laws to build or preserve batei knesset, may
this be my reward."
At the end of the meeting the cabinet passed the bill with a
majority of nine ministers versus Ministers Lapid, Poraz,
Paritzky and Olmert.