Yisrael Beiteinu Compromises on Civil Marriage, Loyalty Oath

Yisrael Beiteinu signed a coalition agreement with Likud late Sunday night, but the agreement gives the party little to boast of on its two flagship campaign issues - instituting civil marriage and requiring all citizens to take a loyalty oath.

It does, however, facilitate establishment of a narrow rightist government, since it contains nothing the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties would find unacceptable. Both Shas and United Torah Judaism objected vehemently to Yisrael Beiteinu's original demands on both civil marriage and conversion. Yesterday, however, both parties praised the agreement, saying they would have no problem signing it.

The agreement makes no mention of the loyalty oath. Instead, it merely pledges that the government will combat disloyal behavior by enacting legislation that deprives convicted spies and terrorists of government welfare payments and other benefits.

And instead of promising enactment of a civil marriage law, the agreement merely states that within 60 days of the government's establishment, the prime minister will appoint a task force comprised of representatives of every coalition party to discuss ways to solve the problem of some 300,000 people who cannot marry via the official rabbinate. The panel will submit its conclusions within 15 months. In addition, the government will pass legislation allowing non-Jews to marry each other in a civil ceremony.

Yisrael Beiteinu's demand to change the system of government was also watered down: Instead of moving to a presidential system, the agreement merely pledges minor reforms of the existing system - for instance, requiring at least 55 MKs instead of 50 to pass a private member's bill with budgetary implications.

At the party's insistence, the agreement does include an explicit promise to work to topple the Hamas government in Gaza. It also includes some measures designed to streamline the conversion process - for instance, by allowing municipal rabbinical courts to perform conversions instead of only special conversion courts, which have been largely paralyzed by disagreements between Haredi and religious Zionist rabbis.

This clause, however, may never be implemented, since the move is conditional on the Chief Rabbinate's approval, and the rabbinate is currently dominated by Haredi rabbis who oppose the moderate approach to conversion favored by some municipal rabbis.

Tomer Zarchin adds:

Meanwhile, a police representative told the High Court of Justice yesterday that the alleged crimes for which Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman is under investigation are still going on. A prosecution representative added that Lieberman would soon be questioned in the case for the first time.