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
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
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