Israel's Livni facing religious reservations in coalition talks
An ultra-Orthodox Israeli party has expressed reservations about entering a coalition headed by a woman, creating another hurdle for Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in her efforts to form a new government, reproted dpa.
Israel's Ma'ariv daily Thursday quoted a senior spiritual leader of the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party, Rabbi Joseph Shalom Elyashiv, as saying in private talks this week that "it is not simple to sit in a government when the prime minister is a woman."
The party's rabbis have yet to issue a formal ruling in favour or against joining a government headed by a woman and have said they will do so only when coalition negotiations reach a final stage.
But their reservations are based on a decree by a leading 12th century Jewish scholar, Rabbi Moses Maimonides, who wrote that women should not take up public office, Ma'ariv said.
Livni, 50, won the leadership of Israel's ruling Kadima party last month, in primaries held to find a replacement for Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Olmert has resigned the premiership over suspicions of corruption and is currently serving at the head of a transitional government.
Israeli President Shimon Peres charged Livni with forming a new government late last month.
The foreign minister will have to ask Peres for a two-week extension if she fails to do so by Monday, when the first 28-day period given to her by Israeli law ends.
Her centrist Kadima party, which has 29 mandates in the 120-seat Knesset, earlier this week signed a draft coalition agreement with the leftist Labour Party, the second-largest faction in the Israeli parliament with 19 seats.
But she needs additional factions in order to obtain a majority.
So far, she has been unable to win over the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which with 12 mandates is the third-largest faction along with the hardline, opposition Likud.
The Likud of hawkish former premier Benjamin Netanyahu has already rejected her overtures and called for early elections, in which it is confident it would do well according to opinion polls. Netanyahu has also tried to convince Shas not to join Livni's coalition.
Unlike UTJ, Shas has said it has no objection to joining a government headed by a woman, but it has refused to give in on two key demands - a raise in child allowances for large, often ultra-Orthodox, families, and a commitment that Livni will not negotiate on Jerusalem in her talks with the Palestinians.
While the UTJ, which has six mandates, consists mainly of Ashkenazi Jews, or Jews of European descent, Shas' constituency is made up mainly of Sephardic Jews, or Jews of northern-African and Middle Eastern origin. dpa ok bve