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27 Elul 5759 - September 8, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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UTJ Leaves the Government Coalition Because of Shabbos Turbine Transport

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

The Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Degel HaTorah and of Agudas Yisroel have instructed the UTJ MKs to leave the coalition, following the transfer of the third superheater turbine component built by the Israel Military Industries in Ramat Hasharon to the Ashkelon power station on last Friday night parshas Nitzovim and Shabbos.

The previous week, on Thursday, the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah told the UTJ MKs to leave the coalition in the event that the turbine part was transferred on Shabbos.

That Friday morning the Prime Minister's office announced that the turbine would be transferred on Shabbos on a one- time basis by non-Jews, and that from then on, no further components would be transferred on Shabbos. Rather all would be transported during the week, over several nights if necessary.

Throughout last week, a Directors General Committee headed by Minister Michael Melchior discussed the issue and they approved a plan for the turbines to be transferred over of a number of nights during the week, parking during the day at two intermediary locations.

The director general of the Ministry of Internal Security and other representatives agreed to this solution. However, Commissioner Yehuda Wilk, head of the police, refused to endorse this arrangement with only two interim storage locations, demanding that an additional parking site be prepared.

Last week, the Infrastructure Minister, Eliyahu Suissa, informed the Minister Michael Melchior, that Maatz (the public works company) completed the work on the two parking lots agreed upon by the Committee of Directors General to find a solution to the problem of transferring the heavy turbines on weekdays. The general director of the Security Ministry, Arye Ramot-Shiffman, who expressed his approval of his Ministry for this proposal, also participated in this meeting.

The parking lots which were completed are at the Ganot interchange and the Ashdod junction. Minister Suissa said that with the completion of the parking lots, the problem of transferring the components on weekdays has been solved. The Minister expressed his hope that in accordance with the agreement made at the meeting of the general director's meeting, the police will enable the remaining components to be transferred on weekdays.

The traffic police objected that so far, only one parking lot -- at the Ganot junction -- had been prepared. However, even if the two parking lots were prepared, police said, the distance between the two junctions is too great and the trip will take more than the four hours that the turbine part is permitted to travel each night. Therefore, the police said that a third parking lot should be prepared between these two junctions.

In the meantime, it became clear that police were preparing for another transfer on Shabbos.

The UTJ MKs told Minister Melchior, who represented the Prime Minister, that if the turbine were to be transferred on Shabbos, they would leave the coalition immediately, as they said the previous week.

MK Rabbi Meir Porush told Israel Radio that the United Torah Judaism faction in the Knesset has no alternative but to leave the current coalition.

MK Porush added that he felt that it was a mistake to enter the coalition, which he described as too willing to distance itself from Orthodox Jewry and to endear itself to the Arab population.

Rabbi Porush added the repeated Sabbath desecration with the Friday night transports of Israel Electric Company turbine components, together with this past Sabbath's desecration during the day to prepare for the Wye-2 signing ceremony on motzei Shabbos, made it impossible for his party to remain in the government.

Rabbi Porush concluded that in time, he was certain the other Orthodox parties will have no alternative but to leave as well in light of the government's stand on matters of religion.

The UTJ MKs sent an official letter to Prime Minister Ehud Barak, notifying him that they were leaving the coalition at the instructions of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah.

In the letter they wrote: "We hereby inform you that in line with the directives of maranan verabonon, the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah shlita, the United Torah Jewry faction in the Knesset is withdrawing from the coalition which you head.

"Last week, the gedolei Yisroel instructed us to leave the coalition if the turbine was transferred on Shabbos. The following day, we received an official statement from your office that the turbine would be transferred by non-Jews on a one-time basis, and that on the ensuing Shabbosim no such loads would be transferred. Instead they will be moved only on weekday nights.

"The Directors General Committee which you appointed recommended that the loads be transferred during the week, over a few nights, with intermediate stopovers at two parking sites. We were apprised of this by the Minister for Social and Diaspora issues, Rabbi Melchior, and it was also announced publicly by the director general of the Ministry of Internal Security.

"Later on, the Inspector General of the Police, Commissioner Yehuda Wilk announced that he wanted an additional parking site, something which could have been prepared had they waited and not transferred the turbine component last Shabbos.

"In light of this our party informed Minister Melchior, who acted as your representative, that if the turbine were transferred once again on Shabbos night we would leave the coalition immediately.

"On motzei Shabbos kodesh, after it became clear to us that the turbine was, in spite all the above, transported on Shabbos, maranan verabonon, the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah instructed us to effect our resignation notification immediately.

"We must stress that the recurring Shabbos desecration constitutes a serious slight to the sensitivities of the hundreds of thousands of citizens who sanctify the Shabbos, aside from the fact that it is also a breach of the coalition agreement with our party in respect to honoring the Shabbos. Therefore we announce our withdrawal from the coalition."

The letter was signed by UTJ's five MKs: Rabbi Meir Porush, Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz, Rabbi Yaakov Litzman, Rabbi Moshe Gafni and Rabbi Shmuel Halpert.

According to political observers United Torah Judaism's departure from the coalition over the transport of the turbine superheater on Shabbos may have a domino effect on the two other religious parties in the coalition -- Shas with 17 seats and the National Religious Party with five. However for now, Shas has announced that it will not leave the government.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Michael Melchior has announced he will continue to convene the committee trying to solve the issue.

MK Rabbi Meir Porush told the Jerusalem Post: "What pains me is that the government could have made preparations for the turbine to be transported midweek and did not. This government on the one hand is doing everything to bring the Palestinians closer, while on the other hand pushing the religious further away, and that's a great pity."

One Israel representatives said that contacts between the UTJ and Cabinet Secretary Yitzhak Herzog had been held over the weekend in an effort to prevent the party's departure but that, in any case UTJ is a significant factor in the coalition's stability, as long as Shas will not bolt the coalition.

The UTJ decision reduces the number of coalition MKs to 70 which still gives them a comfortable margin of 10 votes. The government also enjoys the outside support of the 10 Arab party MKs and can rely on the support of the 6 Shinui MKs on most matters including especially those of religion and state.

At the moment, Barak has no plans to remove the two UTJ members who sit on the Knesset Finance Committee, despite the fact that the two are there under the allocation of members for One Israel.

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