Our Knesset Needs Poraz

Voting Shas will get you a place in heaven, but is it good for the state of Israel?

Two weeks before the election, the battle for every vote is heating up. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has promised a place in heaven for anyone who votes for Shas. That's infinitely preferable to Hamas' method. There, you need to commit suicide to earn a place in heaven; here, all you need to do is put the right slip in the ballot.

Shas already has announced it wants to be part of the next government. Three years in opposition was more than enough for the party. The fountain of funds dried up. But is a government with Shas good for Israel?

The two mainstays of the next government will be, it appears, Kadima, with 37 Knesset members, and Labor, with 20 MKs, according to a poll published by Haaretz today. But who will be the minority partners in the coalition that will give Olmert his majority? Shas is one option, but he could also invite Meretz and Hetz - and what a difference that would make. Meretz will probably bring around five seats, but what about Hetz? The secularist party headed by Avraham Poraz is garnering just 0.9 percent of the vote, according to pollster Mina Tzemach's latest survey. He needs another 1.1 percent to get past the 2 percent electoral threshold. In other words, he needs to drum up another 30,000 voters.

The polls are cruel to small parties. When a small party fails to pass the threshold in the first poll, its fate is sealed. Potential voters, afraid of wasting their vote, desert them and fulfill the prophecy of the poll.

It's hard to believe that there are not 60,000 people in Israel who want to see Poraz (and Roni Brizon) in the Knesset. Is it possible that there are not 60,000 people with a liberal outlook, who believe in a free-market economy, who believe in fighting against ultra-Orthodox coercion and hope for a sane diplomatic solution to the Palestinian conflict?

It seems that Poraz is too straight, too modest, too hard-working for the Knesset. Does anyone remember that he was awarded the Quality Government Knight Award by a committee headed by judge Haim Cohen and Prof. Asa Kasher? Who knows? If it were not for Poraz, Israel might still not have an institutionalized daylight savings time policy. One can only hope that the voters remember his struggle against the excessive use of free electricity by Israel Electric Corp. employees.

As chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, Poraz pushed through a liberal and reformist agenda in every area of public policy. As interior minister, he put 156 local authorities through a process of financial rehabilitation - fixing the mess left behind by Shas, which distributed money to authorities only if they guaranteed that some would be spent on mikvehs and synagogues. Poraz granted Israeli citizenship to several hundred non-Jewish youths who served in the Israel Defense Forces, and granted their parents permanent residence status - something Shas ministers would never dream of doing.

After the public has become immune to hearing about waste and outlandish expenditures by Knesset members and ministers, it is important for the parliament to include someone who used a Subaru, not a Volvo, when he was interior minister. It is important for the voters to know that when Poraz was Shinui treasurer, it was the only party to end the election campaign with money in the coffers rather than suffer a deficit.

If one is not convinced by the personal contribution Poraz can make to the Knesset, perhaps the threat of Shas reentering the coalition will do the trick. Shas wants to reintroduce child benefits and other handouts, so that its voters can go back to living on welfare without working. Shas would not allow legislation permitting civil marriage to be passed, and once again would conduct a witch hunt against businesses that open on the Sabbath. The Shas-run education system, El Hama'ayan, will once again be the beneficiary of generous funding, even though those who pass through its schools are doomed to a lifetime of poverty, because they are not taught the tools they need to survive in the modern workplace - neither English nor math.

If Shas is part of the next coalition, the Religious Affairs Ministry will rise from the ashes, and hundreds of ultra-Orthodox will be given cushy jobs there. Over the years, Shas also has become a right-of-center party, which opposed the disengagement and would not support another unilateral withdrawal.

Ehud Olmert has a natural tendency to side with the ultra-Orthodox; he kowtowed to them when he was Jerusalem mayor. That is why we need Poraz in the Knesset. We must reach a situation in which Meretz and Hetz together have 10 seats, providing Olmert with an alternative to Shas. But for this to become reality, Poraz still needs another 30,000 votes.