Only the cautiousness of Shas Party chief Eli Yishai prevented passage of a preliminary reading of a bill outlawing abortions after the 22nd week of pregnancy. Discussion of the bill, proposed by MK Nissim Zeev, has already taken place. Zeev made a speech about it being murder and that we are "a backward country." But Yishai was worried they wouldn't get a majority. So instead of a vote on the bill, there was a vote on postponing the vote.
Shas whip Yakov Margi proceeded to raise a new demand, that the party be given the chairmanship either of the Knesset Finance Committee or House Committee. That gave rise to the thought that Shas just doesn't know what to ask for anymore.
Shas began 2008 with a kitty full of achievements. The Religious Services Ministry was resurrected and the education minister published the Nahari Law regulations, which let local authorities channel money to ultra-Orthodox institutions. It looked like these accomplishments would guarantee that the party remain in the coalition long-term. But ever since Shas discovered how good it is to sit on the coalition fence, it refuses to come down from there.
If once upon a time they used to pay parties by their years in the coalition, the word at the Knesset yesterday was that Shas is now charging by the week. Yesterday, for example, the Knesset Finance Committee approved a transfer of NIS 475 million to the budget for yeshivas, more fruit of the coalition agreement.
For years Eli Yishai led a policy that might be described as "Let's not annoy the secular too much." In the background hovered the trauma of the "Just Not Shas in '99" demonstrations. Now there seems to be a new Yishai, who threatens to resign from the government every other day and is reminiscent of Aryeh Deri in his heyday, or bad old days (depending on how you look at it).
Who remembers anymore that just two months ago the Labor Party was supposed to be the coalition tiebreaker. Right now it looks like there is no price the Labor people aren't willing to pay for a little more borrowed time in the government. Thus Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog did not make do with supporting the Rabbinical Courts Law, but was the one to propose it. Four Knesset members from Labor voted in favor of the Internet Censorship Law, which Shelly Yachimovich says will bring us in line with such enlightened nations as Syria. Only Yachimovich and Eitan Cabel voted against. Thirteen MKs disappeared. Where is Labor's red line? (If such a thing exists.) Cabel says that if Yishai goes to bat over children's stipends, it will show that he truly wants to break up the government.
Nevertheless it is worth paying attention to the story that commentator Yaakov Rivlin is publishing today in the ultra-Orthodox newspaper Bakehila. Eli Yishai, Rivlin recounts, said during a closed Shas meeting that it is very difficult to persuade the party's spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, to quit the coalition. That rule holds true even for a government that humiliates Shas on a daily basis like the Barak government used to. So try convincing the rabbi to leave a coalition that doesn't stop groveling before him.
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