'Piety crisis' hits Israel in a bikini and a menu

FOREIGN CLOSEUP

October 13, 1992|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau

JERUSALEM -- As if Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin did not have enough to worry about, with peace talks, Palestinians and prison strikes.

Now there's a piety crisis.

Members of his coalition have been caught recently doing unpious things, and religious critics are expressing outrage. The flap has shades of a British royalty scandal, complete with photos in a tabloid paper of a prominent public figure on the beach in a bikini.

The figure was that of Yael Dayan, 53, the daughter of Israeli war hero Moshe Dayan and member of the Knesset in Mr. Rabin's Labor party.

The scandal was that she was photographed sunbathing in Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur, the most somber Jewish holy day.

Most Israelis are more secular than religious. But government officials are supposed to be more conspicuous in their observance of religion, or at least inconspicuous in the violation thereof.

Religious members of the Knesset demanded an apology. Ms. Dayan refused, telling Israel Radio that her critics, including maybe the prime minister, are hypocrites.

"I'll sure keep going to the beach on Yom Kippur," she vowed, noting that she has done so yearly and hinting that her only regret was that this time she did not drive. Driving is also a violation of the observance.

Mr. Rabin already had his fill of irreverent behavior from a member of his cabinet, Shulamit Aloni.

Mrs. Aloni is a liberal -- some would say a radical -- whose very presence in the government coalition aggravates the religious politicians. When she was given the Education Ministry, long controlled by the National Religious Party, and immediately began steering school programs to a more secular course, they became apoplectic.

Mrs. Aloni has proven to be an indiscriminate offender. She has talked about teaching students evolutionary theory, bemoaned killings by Army undercover squads, criticized Israeli youth tourism to Auschwitz as an "industry" and proposed returning the Golan Heights to Syria.

Mr. Rabin moaned that he was "serving as a fireman every day" because of his education minister's remarks.

He's in an awkward position because he needs Mrs. Aloni's Meretz party in his coalition.

But, the religious Shas Party threatened to quit the coalition over Mrs. Aloni, which also could have caused the fall of the four-month old government. It is a real threat: the first time he was prime minister in 1976, Mr. Rabin had to break up his government in part because of the delivery of U.S. fighter planes on a Sabbath.

Mr. Rabin managed to calm Shas, but even he seemed relieved to see Mrs. Aloni off on a working trip to Europe earlier this month.

Then came the menu caper.

The National Religious Party noted her itinerary included meetings in non-kosher restaurants "where it's obvious you can't order only a salad."

The Jerusalem Post quoted a religious politician complaining Mrs. Aloni must be eating "all kinds of crawling foul things and abominations" in violation of Jewish dietary laws.

That and a scheduled car trip on a Saturday -- when Sabbath driving is forbidden -- mean she is "trampling on the government's identity," the religious party charged.

There was not a little overacting here. The National Religious Party is sore it is not included in the government coalition, sharing the disbursement of funds. Its pious protests are widely seen as an attempt to put pressure on Shas, the only religious party to join the government.

If Shas quit, a government reorganization could bring the NRP back into ruling circles.

Because of that danger, some of Mrs. Aloni's own party members had been irked at her indiscretions. But this latest attack on her menu was too much for them to swallow.

"Good lord, a person goes into a restaurant and eats," exclaimed Yair Tsaban, minister of immigrant absorption and a member of Mrs. Aloni's Meretz party. "What is this jumping down her throat? What is this fiendish dance?"

Yossi Sarid, chairman of the Meretz faction in the Knesset, charged that the religious party was dangerously close to violating other strictures, having to do with pork.

The allegations, he said, carry a "strong, disgusting, piggish odor."

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