Surprisingly, several Knesset members from the Arab political parties absent from the vote, and several MKs from the Labor Party voted against the proposal.
MK Yoram Marciano (Labor), however, veered from the official party line and voted in favor of re-launching the ministry. “I think Labor was hypocritical and self-righteous in its vote today,” he said.
This, in light of the fact that the Labor Party was promised the science and culture portfolio during coalition formation if it would vote in favor of giving the religious affairs portfolio to Shas.
Meanwhile, Shas Party members, led by Minister Yitzhak Cohen, lobbied feverishly behind the scenes in order to ensure a majority vote in favor of the reestablished ministry. “I will not make any toasts until the very last worker in the Religious Affairs Ministry receives his paycheck,” said Cohen. This was said in wake of the severe crisis plaguing various religious councils, leading to suspension of burial services throughout Israel.
Cohen also promised that salary gaps between the various councils will be leveled, and that all problems and flaws within the religious council system will be managed. “These problems, this corruption took place when there was no religious affairs minister in place. Now the Religious Affairs Ministry will be a place of true sanctity and forthrightness,” said Cohen.
MK Zahava Gal-On, chairwoman of the Meretz faction, said after the vote that the government is bribing Shas in order to survive, this at the tax-payers expense. “Cronies will again be given jobs and money will again be transferred to ultra-Orthodox establishments at the expense of the secular contingent. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government is bribing Shas before the publication of the Winograd Commission report,” she said.
Dismantled ministry comes back to life
Last Sunday the Knesset approved the reformation of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, four years after it was disbanded due to economic considerations. The proposal was accepted by a 15-6 vote.
Objections to the reformation of this government ministry came from all sides of the political spectrum. Meretz Chairman MK Yossi Beilin lamented that this was "a dark day indeed for the separation of religion and state….this new ministry’s sole purpose is to give religious parties additional power to impose their will on the secular majority.”
MK Zevulun Orlev (National Union - NRP), whose party once ran the Religious Affairs Ministry, called the move “blatant political bribery”.
Neta Sela contributed to this article