For a day and a half they rejoiced in Shas. Faction head Yair Peretz hastened to issue an official statement to the effect that "Shas will not hesitate to exploit the new political situation in order to bring good news to the weaker strata before the budget debates." Of what importance is Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and who cares about Mr. Osama bin Laden - the main thing is to make a bit of political capital out of the resignations from the coalition of the ministers from the National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman (National Infrastructure) and Rehavam Ze'evi (Tourism), because without their party Shas becomes the balance-point of the coalition scales.
However, within a few hours, the political situation reversed itself tragically. Ze'evi was killed and Lieberman returned to the bosom of the government, Shas reverted to its previous power position, but it turns out that this is not inconsiderable, because even without being in a position to tip the balance, its 17 Knesset members and the five Knesset members of United Torah Judaism (UTJ) dictate the way life is lived in this country.
l The Knesset Finance Committee. When MK Yaakov Litzman (UTJ) was appointed chairman of the Finance Committee, he announced: "Apart from matters of health and security, the finance minister doesn't stand a chance of getting any budgetary request through the Finance Committee, as long as NIS 170 million are not delivered to the yeshiva budgets."
Litzman went on to say that despite the government's decision, he will also not allow a freeze on the law that increases the National Insurance Institute allotment for the fifth child in a family to NIS 800 a month. "I mean to be a sectarian chairman," he said with a huge wink to his constituency.
l The winter session. The Knesset session that opened this week will be in the shadow of these 22 Knesset members. They have already submitted a long list of demands, which also includes increasing the budgets for their religious institutions.
l The Recycling Law. The industrialists and the marketing chains did not want this law in the first place, because it entails a lot of hassle and expense. Somewhere along the line, the industrialists realized that there was no alternative and they began to cooperate. The supermarket chains, and in particular Ami Sagis of Supersol, continued to fight the law, but in the end it was the Shas Knesset members who castrated it. They argued in the Finance Committee that their people consumed large bottles of beverages, and the ultra-Orthodox housewife is so busy that she does not have time to return the bottles to the store in order to get back the deposit. In this way, they managed to exclude from the law all bottles with a volume of 1.5 liters and more, which constitute about half of the recycling potential.
l Daylight Savings Time. In 1991, MK Avraham Poraz (Shinui) pushed through a law stipulating that Daylight Savings Time last at least 150 days a year. The ultra-Orthodox did not like this law. They didn't want to wake up in the dark in the Hebrew month of Elul (approximately September) to say the early morning slihot prayers that precede the High Holidays, and it's hard for them to fast on Yom Kippur when Daylight Savings Time is in effect - all kinds of weird arguments that boil down to just a demonstration of power and achieving something merely for the sake of doing so.
The result is that in Israel this year Daylight Savings Time ended two days before Yom Kippur, and more than a month before it ended in Europe, the United States and the Palestinian Authority. There, they will move the hands of the clock on October 28. But who cares that Daylight Savings Time conserves energy, increases productivity, decreases the number of traffic accidents and improves the quality of the leisure hours? In this country, the comfort and egotism of the ultra-Orthodox is more important.
l Yeshiva students. So it's true that they are not conscripted into the Israel Defense Forces and do not endanger their lives, and it's true that three out four ultra-Orthodox men don't hold down a job, but what would happen if while they were studying in the yeshiva they were, God forbid, to fall ill?
Minister of Religious Affairs Asher Ohana of Shas came to the conclusion that there is a problem here, and therefore decided that the state would provide all the yeshiva students "whose Torah is their craft" with life insurance and health insurance, and this in addition to the allotments from the National Insurance Institute. So it's true that the state of Israel does not have enough money to insure reserve pilots and soldiers, but who are they as compared with a yeshiva student?
l Compulsory insurance. It is a truth universally acknowledged, the more passengers there are in a car, the number of those injured in case of an accident will be greater. But this simple fact made no impression on the ultra-Orthodox. They managed to get through the Knesset a decision that a van carrying eight or nine will pay the same premium to Avner Insurance as an ordinary car, in which there are five passengers. This is because they have large families, so the secular can just subsidize their insurance.
l Education. This is the most irritating of all perhaps, as three classes have emerged in Israel: The upper class is the ultra-Orthodox education system, where the number of students in a classroom is the lowest and the number of hours of study paid for by the state is the highest. The middle class is the national-religious education system. And who is the eternal sucker at the end of the line? Yes, the national education system. There, you can keep 40 students in a classroom and send them home at 12:30. Apparently the secular donkey has an infinite capacity for suffering.
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