Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Sivan 5764 - May 27, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











UTJ and Shas MKs Unite to Disrupt Knesset Plenum
By Eliezer Rauchberger

An unusual sight was seen in the Knesset last week when the chareidi MKs from United Torah Jewry and Shas brought the plenum to a halt as an act of protest against the government's constant scheming and deliberate attacks against every area of chareidi education, religious services and religious values, the religious council workers' withheld wages and the general undermining of the Jewish character of the State of Israel.

The chareidi MKs made an uncommon show of dissent after they felt the government had crossed all lines in its disregard for the chareidi public, focusing their protests on the failure to pay the religious council workers--including rabbonim--for many months while the suffering of these government workers does not even appear to be part of the government's agenda.

It all began during a meeting of the Knesset's religious lobby before the plenum when members began to lodge criticism against the government's ongoing decrees against chareidi Torah and educational institutions carried out by the Ministries of Education and Welfare.

Rabbi Avrohom Friedman, representing the directors of the Yeshiva Union, presented some of the serious decrees the government has imposed on the Torah world. For example: Yeshivos ketanos were allocated NIS 340 ($75) per student per month one year ago, whereas today that amount has dropped to a mere NIS 120 ($25). The Welfare Ministry allocated a sum of NIS 520 ($120) per student for chareidi dormitories, whereas today it provides a mere NIS 60 ($13).

During the meeting a proposal was raised to disrupt the plenary session and committee meetings until the Prime Minister and his ministers reflect and realize they cannot continue to sever the country from Judaism. In this spirit of resolve the chareidi MKs walked down to the plenary hall.

Suddenly, without any advance warning, all of the chareidi MKs, along with Uri Ariel of HaIchud HaLeumi, stepped up and stood in the front of the hall near the government's table opposite the Speaker's platform and began protesting loudly, primarily against the harm done to religious services and the withholding of the religious council workers' salaries.

The 60-odd MKs and ministers in the plenary hall at the time were astonished by the sight of so many MKs organizing a demonstration right in the middle of the plenary hall. The main thrust of their anger was directed towards Interior Minister Avraham Poraz, who sat in his seat at the government's table. The MKs accused him and his party of responsibility for the collapse of religious services and the prolonged delay in paying salaries.

The chareidi MKs announced they would not allow discussions to be held in the plenary hall undisturbed until the problem of the religious council workers was solved, precipitating a large uproar. MKs from Meretz and Labor joined the protest, backing the chareidi MKs' claims and adding a demand to solve the problem of the local authority workers, many of whom have also not received salaries for many months.

Interim Knesset Chairman MK Moshe Kachalon appeared hapless in the face of the highly unusual event, and had no alternative other than to announce a two-minute recess.

When the meeting resumed and everyone assumed the storm was over, the chareidi MKs returned to the center of the plenary hall and repeated their resolute announcement they would not allow plenary sessions to run normally. "It cannot be that in the Knesset everything continues as usual while such a large segment of the public is groaning and has not received a salary for many months and nobody cares," said one MK. "If their lives are disrupted, life here will be disrupted too."

Kachalon tried in vain to restore calm and return the irate MKs to their seats, calling their protest "theatrics," but the chareidi MKs remained in the middle of the hall, not heeding the calls to take their seats. Neither did the insistent entreaties by Knesset staffers succeed in restoring order. At that point Kachalon began to call each of the protesters individually to order and when they failed to respond he had them escorted out of the plenary hall one by one, as they pledged not to rest until the religious council workers were extricated from their present plight.

Even after the demonstrators had all been removed, the hall was still in a state of agitation. Throughout the incident a speaker stood on the podium and tried to continue his speech.

According to Knesset regulations even if an MK is removed from the plenary hall he must be brought back in for the subsequent vote. Therefore when the first matter came to a vote the chareidi MKs returned to the hall, whereupon they immediately resumed their protest beside the government's table. Following a suggestion by House Committee Chairman MK Roni Bar-On to permit one of the chareidi MKs to take the speaker's podium and present their grievances, Kachalon called up Shas Chairman Eli Yishai.

Yishai took advantage of the time he was granted to decry the government's conduct and its deliberate scheming against religious services and religious council workers. "Today we are voicing the rage of hundreds of thousands of people. We are speaking for tens of thousands of hungry families that are hungry for bread. Children who do not have supper tonight. The many religious council and local authority workers who have not been paid for a long time. This is a terrible crisis that is being ignored here. There are rabbonim, mashgichei kashrut, mikva workers, department heads, chevra kadisha workers, people engaged in holy work, who are not receiving their pay."

Yishai spoke with great passion, aiming most of his remarks at Interior Minister Avraham Poraz, who he accused of closing off the taps of government funding for religious services.

Yishai then told the MKs that Poraz sent a letter to the local authorities in which he wrote whoever allocated funding to organizations for dogs, cats and other animals would be recognized and receive grants. "Is this not a crying shame?" he cried out. "Is this not obtuseness and evil? Is this not stupidity? What are we asking for? That if you don't want the local authority workers and the religious council workers, fire them. But as long as they are employed they cannot be thrown out into the street. As long as they are alive and breathing, pay attention to them. Pay attention to the Torah world, the yeshivas, the botei knesset--even if you don't like this."

The moment Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu walked into the plenary hall all of the chareidi MKs descended on him charging him with responsibility for what is taking place at the religious councils. The uproar in the hall was so loud that almost nobody could hear anybody else. It was a din of shouts and protest against the suppression of the chareidi public and religious services in the State of Israel.

Meanwhile Shinui MKs kept demanding Kachalon remove all of the chareidi MKs, but instead he announced a second recess.

During the recess the MKs continued to argue until Labor Party Chairman Shimon Peres took upon himself the task of acting as a mediator. He suggested the Finance Minister sit down with the chareidi representatives and listen to their demands in an attempt to solve the problem.

Netanyahu agreed and outside of the plenary hall the group of MKs explained to him the difficult situation the religious council workers face. The Finance Minister claimed he had been unaware of the severity of the situation but he agreed to discuss it and see how he could help them solve the problem. The MKs also demanded he take the speaker's podium to publicly announce he agreed to solve the problem.

At the end of the conversation Netanyahu made a special announcement before the plenum, saying, "The funding we allocated to solve the crisis of the religious councils is stopped up in the pipes." He promised to convene a meeting of the professional figures involved, including the Internal Minister and the new director-general of the Prime Minister's Office, Ilan Cohen, to provide a solution as soon as possible. He also noted that his appearance at this plenum was above and beyond the scope of his responsibilities since he does not directly handle the matter of wages for religious council workers, but in this case he would be willing to delve into the matter in an effort to solve the ongoing crisis.

Throughout the rest of the day the chareidi Knesset members took advantage of every opportunity the had to speak as a result of private motions or legislative proposals, to explain their vociferous opposition to the government's conduct, which has done so much harm to religious services and the chareidi education system.

They noted that this was just the beginning and from now on they will make use of every opportunity to halt the government's wild rampage against all the values Judaism holds dear.

Shinui MKs also made repeated references to the morning's events. Avraham Poraz even went so far as to lay the blame for the collapse of the religious councils and the local authorities on his predecessors at the Interior Ministry.


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