MK Ravitz: UTJ might not disqualify sitting in gov't with Shinui
United Torah Judaism MK Avraham Ravitz said Friday that if Shinui has indeed changed its approach toward the ultra-Orthodox parties, then UTJ does not disqualify the secular party as a potential coalition partner.
Until now, the ultra-Orthodox UTJ party has insisted it will not sit in the same coalition with Shinui, a sentiment UTJ MK Moshe Gafni reiterated Thursday. The faction will meet on Sunday to discuss the progress that has been made in coalition talks.
Ravitz congratulated Shinui chairman Justice Minister Yosef Lapid on Friday for retracting his opposition to sitting in government with ultra-Orthodox parties.
Facing unprecedented heckling in the 117-member Shinui executive council, Lapid on Thursday night kicked off a personal campaign to persuade the party activists to drop their promise to the voters never to participate in a government that includes an ultra-Orthodox party.
The decision by Lapid, the party's undisputed leader, and its No. 2, Interior Minister Avraham Poraz, to drop their longtime opposition to partnering with a Haredi party came earlier this week in a meeting with Ariel Sharon. The prime minister needs to bring United Torah Judaism into a new coalition with Labor and Shinui, to put down a rebellion he is facing in the Likud.
"I welcome this trend in Shinui," said Ravitz. "And the time has come for everyone to recognize the legitimacy of the ultra-Orthodox population."
Ravitz also hinted at an impending meeting with Lapid. "If [Lapid] continues in this path, we will be able to meet earlier than I had anticipated. That which I was demanding for several weeks happened even earlier than I expected."
Lapid and Poraz won a first victory Thursday when they avoided an open debate on the issue at the day's session, even though more than 80 members of the council demanded such a debate.
Instead, the debate will take place next Thursday, and it is still not certain if there will be a vote to approve or disapprove of the Lapid-Poraz decision, meant to leave Shinui in the government with Labor and Likud.
Lapid had stayed away from the media prior to Thursday's conference at ZOA House in Tel Aviv, after two unpleasant days in which he was under constant attack in the press from journalists, politicians and most critically, Shinui activists, for his 180-degree about-face regarding participation in a coalition with a Haredi party. Polls, such as the Haaretz survey published Thursday, show that the Shinui constituency was shocked by the move. It does not help Lapid that United Torah Judaism is demanding the very ministries that Shinui regards as most important - Justice and Interior - and which its two top politicians hold.
"Don't humiliate me in front of my friends whom I persuaded to vote Shinui," cried Shinui Youth leader Aviel Aharoni, expressing a prevailing view at the charged meeting.
"Shinui needs to get off the narrow fence of sectorial politics, and stop riding only one horse," said Lapid as he tried to convince a sometimes unruly audience.
Shinui won't be able to become a ruling party if it only has one slogan - no Haredim - he said. "I am telling you young people that if you want this party to have a future, you must support change in the party," said Lapid.
The journalist-turned-party-leader lost his temper at least once in the fray, saying "I reject all the moralistic preaching at me. Maybe the people who are doing it are here because of me?" In the same tone he explained it was his right to change the slogan that he invented - "a government without the Haredim."
"There are moments when leaders must make difficult decisions," said Lapid, and he referred to Charles de Gaulle in Algeria, Richard Nixon in China and Menachem Begin in Sinai as examples of leaders who had to turn their backs on agendas that had guided them for decades, beating back opponents from inside their own camps and parties.
One person who drew attention Thursday was Prof. Uriel Reichman, considered the architect of Shinui's climb to become the third largest party in parliament. Unlike Lapid, he spoke of the crisis in Shinui as one that could either strengthen the party or weaken it. He said Shinui should cease being a niche anti-Haredi party and warned against what he called "the Paritzky syndrome," meaning the "tragedy of what happens when personal ambition is blinding." He called on the party to expand its ranks because a party with 15 seats in Knesset needs more than 2,500 official members.
Labor suspends coalition talks with LikudThe Labor Party has suspended coalition negotiations with the Likud, canceling a scheduled Friday morning meeting between the two parties following a dispute over the timing of the 2005 budget vote.
However, the suspension will be brief, with the negotiation teams slated to meet again on Monday.
Labor decided to suspend talks - in what Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's bureau sees as an artificial crisis - after Labor MK Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, a member of the party's team for coalition negotiations on economic issues, walked out of coalition talks Thursday night.
He threatened to halt talks with the Likud on the grounds that it had not accepted any of Labor's economic demands, and said he would recommend that Labor chairman Shimon Peres halt negotiations. The latest demand is that the government postpone its discussion and vote on the state budget until the coalition agreement is finalized.
Earlier in the day, MK Haim Ramon resigned from the Labor negotiating team after claiming that other team members were leaking factually incorrect information from the talks, harming the progress of the negotiations.