Shas Demands It Be Given Knesset Finance C'tee Chairmanship

Party head says the fact that Yisrael Beitenu retains position after leaving coalition 'imbalanced'.

Yakov Margi, the chairman of Shas' Knesset faction, on Wednesday demanded that coalition chairman Eli Aflalo give the religious party the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee. Alternatively, Margi clarified, Shas would settle for the Interior Affairs Committee.

The impetus behind Shas' demand is that Yisrael Beiteinu has left the coalition, yet its party member Stas Misezhnikov continues to chair the Finance Committee. Shas sources call that "imbalanced," and argue that the ruling coalition must be at the helm of this key committee.

But perhaps the real urgency behind Shas' move is that Misezhnikov last week abstained in a vote on transferring NIS 475 million from the state budget to ultra-Orthodox institutions run by Shas, as had been stipulated in the coalition's written agreement with Shas. Also, Misezhnikov postponed a repeat vote on the transfer of funds by a week, although ultimately Wednesday the committee did vote to hand over the money.

Aflalo told Margi that any discussion of his request would have to wait for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to return from Japan.

Misezhnikov recently clarified that he would be prepared to step down as chairman of the Finance Committee if the coalition asked him to.

Whatever umbrage Shas members may be harboring against Misezhnikov, if any, their real motive is that chairing the committee gives them power over massive funds. If they have to settle for the Interior Affairs Committee, that would give them among other things power over daylight savings time policy, enforcement of local government rules regarding observance of the Shabbat, and the power to assist communities at their discretion. That is not a power to be sneezed at, given the proximity of local elections, in November 2008.