Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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11 Tammuz 5764 - June 30, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network











NRP Thwarts Bill for Religious Council Workers
By Eliezer Rauchberger

NRP votes helped defeat legislation proposed by MK Amir Peretz (Am Echad) to apply the Civil Service Law to religious council retirees, thereby requiring the State rather than the religious councils to pay their pensions.

The legislation was rejected by a majority of 50 coalition members versus 48 opposition members. A fracas broke out in the Knesset following the vote as NRP members were accused of defeating the proposal, thereby harming religious council pensioners, many of whom are NRP members, all in order to keep their cushioned seats in the government.

In a rare move Prime Minister Ariel Sharon asked to respond himself in the name of the government to Peretz' proposal. "I would like to announce that the government will not abandon the religious council pensioners, just as it will not overlook the salaries of religious council and local authority workers. We feel an obligation to solve the problem as soon as possible, within weeks. I assigned the Director- General of my office to work on this matter and he is handling the issue. Therefore there is no need for a law."

The Prime Minister's remarks infuriated the opposition, which claimed religious council workers cannot be deceived for so long. "Every week this farce is [played out] with the Prime Minister sitting at a government meeting, bringing in the reporters and explaining to us that he issued a directive," said MK Yossi Sarid (Meretz). "Nothing has come out of all this."

Labor Party Chairman Shimon Peres also lodged harsh criticism against the government. "The responsibility for the Religious Affairs Ministry was transferred to the Prime Minister's Office," he said. "How can it be that for months and months workers at the Prime Minister's Office receive salaries whereas wages are not paid for religious services? Why? There are people with 40-year pensions."

Peres also attacked Shinui Chairman Tomy Lapid saying, "I know that MK Lapid finds it difficult to understand what is improper capitalism. It's withholding wages. On this you haven't breathed a word. You demanded the dismantling of the Religious Affairs Ministry, now take care of the workers. Be serious for once in your life. Not general declarations. Withholding wages is against the Torah, against the State, against labor relations. All of the Prime Minister's announcements are unacceptable to us. You don't have the right to withhold, not the pension payments and not the wages of people who do their work according to the law and according to regulations."

Peretz presented stark figures on what has become of the religious council pensioners. "Even if you decided to dismantle the Religious Affairs Ministry it cannot be that in the State of Israel a body is dismantled, legal existence is annulled and there are thousands of people who are left suspended in midair." He says there are a total of approximately 1,000 such pensioners around the country.

The cited three pensioners in Binyamina who have not received pension payments for 30 months, nineteen pensioners in Rosh Ha'ayin who have not been paid for 18 months, three pensioners in Yavniel who have not been paid for 16 months, twelve pensioners in Natzeret Illit who have not been paid for 12 months, nine pensioners in Chatzor Haglilit who have not been paid for 8 months, fifty pensioners in Rechovot who have not been paid for 8 months, ten pensioners in Bnei Brak who have not been paid for 7 months and in Emanuel three pensioners who have not been paid for 7 months.

Peretz fired criticism against the government that has not been heard for a long time. "I'll read you the figures one after the other, for you have entirely lost the feeling for the numbers written in the newspaper. These are people and families that are losing all hope. Who gave you the right to make reforms and under these reforms to trample over people and families and leave them with nothing? Where does a person derive this right from? There is nothing worse than people who . . . have lost the ability to turn to someone, who find themselves forsaken . . . I am warning the government, it might be that you have disregarded the fact these are people, that everyone has gotten used to vilifying and attacking them, but be it known: the fall of this government could begin from the attitude toward people whose pension comes to maybe one or two thousands shekels [per month]. There are religious council workers whose pension comes to NIS 500 [$110]. This is what we're talking about. From this people have to go home to their families and uphold their honor."

The NRP called the proposed law "populist," saying the party had asked Peretz to delay raising it for one month but he refused.

Peretz had a ready response. "I think your remark that this is populism was inappropriate and has no place here," he told Welfare Minister Zevulun Orlev. "For we are speaking about a pensioner who has not received his pension payment for 30 months. What populism is there here? What more is left? How long can they be left empty-handed before somebody takes action? Therefore I think the time has come. Every word is superfluous. The injustice cries up to Heaven. The need to do justice cries up to Heaven. You have an opportunity to step out of this imperviousness and give some sort of hope to these people who wronged nobody, who committed no crime. All they did was to work hard all their lives, and all they are asking for--`Give us our pension.' Stop humiliating everyone. It cannot be that everyone who is eligible for something has to fight for it. The time has come for people to receive what they deserve in an honorable manner."

After the Prime Minister announced he opposed the proposed legislation Peretz again attacked him. "What is it to wait two or three weeks? The pensioners who have been waiting for 20 or 30 months will wait another two or three weeks? Mr. Prime Minister, listen well. And perhaps the time has come for you to open your eyes and a bit and see what is taking place around you . . . This is an opportunity to change the cruel, uncompromising approach. Don't follow Tommy Lapid in fetters. Tommy Lapid enjoys this. He enjoys seeing religious services collapse. Don't follow him. You have all-inclusive responsibility. You cannot follow the mistakes of Tommy Lapid and his cohorts."

In response to the way the NRP voted MK Tzvi Handel (HaIchud HaLeumi) said, "The blind faith in Sharon and Tommy Lapid's coalition with its clearly anti-religious bent led the NRP with Orlev at its head to steal the bread from the religious council workers."


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