The collapse of Israel’s unity government after 20 months in office is seen as almost certainly paving the way for early elections even if Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon can put together enough support to adopt the 2003 state budget.
A vote of no-confidence is slated to be held Monday and Sharon has reportedly said he would call for new elections on Sunday to stave off such a vote.
Israel and Jewish organizations adopted a wait-and-see posture Tuesday following the resignation of Joerg Haider as leader of Austria’s rightist Freedom Party, even as Haider’s successor vowed to prove wrong critics of the party.
“I don’t see any racism or xenophobia in the party,” Susanne Riess-Passer told The Jewish Week by phone from Vienna. “We have a good program and we will succeed in acting according to our program. I’m sure that many critics will be ashamed in the end.”
Jewish leaders were split this week on how to react to an Austria governed in part by a rightist party whose leader, Joerg Haider, has made and apologized for comments praising some of Hitler’s policies but has been adamant in his refusal to open Austria’s borders to more immigrants.
David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said Austria must be made to “understand the international consequences [of such a government]. It will pay a very heavy price for going down this road.”
Although he was on the verge of assembling a coalition government poised and committed to making peace with Israel’s Arab neighbors, Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak appears to have glossed over domestic conflicts.
“There are a lot of conflicting interests in the coalition,” observed Gerald Steinberg, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan. “The question is whether the parties are going to agree to disagree, or will areas of disagreement keep coming up and hobble the government.”
The Israeli political landscape was rocked again this week with the surprise announcement from Ariel Sharon that he had reached a tentative agreement to bring the Likud Party of defeated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into the new coalition government.
Just last week, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Aryeh Deri, stunned the nation by giving up his post at the insistence of Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak. Barak had demanded that Deri, who was convicted in April of corruption, step aside before Shas could discuss joining his coalition.
The surprise resignation of Shas Party leader Aryeh Deri Tuesday evening came as Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak was on the verge of assembling a minority government after hitting a stone wall in his attempt to form a broad based coalition.
As he works to cobble together a coalition government, Ehud Barak signaled the role he believes religion should play in the Jewish state when he included in his One Israel bloc a Modern Orthodox party, Meimad.
“We believe there is no contradiction between a religious state and a democracy in Israel,” said Rabbi Yehuda Gilad, a dean of Yeshiva Ma’ale Gilboa and a member of Meimad.
By winning a landslide victory this week, Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak has been given a mandate greater than any of his recent predecessors to forge a lasting peace in the Middle East and to heal the divisive rifts that have polarized Israeli society.
Former Defense Minister Yitzchak Mordechai was not “fully aware of the impact” of his Knesset vote last week in favor of a bill designed to keep Reform and Conservative representatives off of Israel’s religious councils, according to his running mate on the new centrist party.
“He was not aware,” insisted former Israeli Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak in an interview here with The Jewish Week just hours after he called Mordechai for an explanation.
Even before new elections were a certainty this week, Labor Party posters touting their chief, Ehud Barak, began appearing in Israel reading: “One Israel for everyone and not for the extremists.”
Barak, a former army chief of staff who once served as foreign minister, has already hired American media gurus, including James Carville, who gained prominence helping Bill Clinton to the White House. It is clear from Labor’s new slogan that it will portray Netanyahu as too closely aligned with right-wing extremists.