- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2003

JERUSALEM Israel's ultra-Orthodox parties reacted with fury yesterday after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon excluded them from his coalition, bringing in the stridently secular Shinui party instead.
Shas, the largest ultra-Orthodox party, which held several senior ministerial portfolios during Mr. Sharon's first two years in office, publicly denounced him.
Shlomo Benizri, the outgoing labor and social affairs minister, described the new coalition's formation as an "unsacred pact."
Ultra-Orthodox Jews are excused from army service in Israel, and Shinui oppose any government role for their parties.
Shinui, led by former journalist Yosef "Tommy" Lapid, became Israel's third-largest party in the election last month, riding a wave of resentment among secular Israelis over privileges enjoyed by the ultra-Orthodox community.
As well as Shinui, Mr. Sharon agreed to coalition terms with the National Religious Party (NRP), a champion of Jewish settlements on occupied land and an opponent of a Palestinian state. Its supporters, mostly religious Zionists, readily join the army.
The lineup gives Mr. Sharon a wafer-thin parliamentary majority with 61 votes in the 120-member Knesset.
Another ultra-Orthodox party, United Torah Judaism, also smarting after being left out of the government, vented its anger against NRP leader Effi Eitam for joining forces with Mr. Lapid, calling Mr. Eitam the "minister of destruction." Mr. Eitam is soon to take over the housing and construction ministry.
Shas in recent years has come to view its membership in government as a natural state of affairs. Its spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, told his parliamentary members that Mr. Sharon had become the head of the "garbage bins."
The slow-moving coalition talks could still drag on until the middle of next month, and Mr. Sharon would like to include more parties to make his government less vulnerable.

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