Cabinet Majority Says It Opposes Destroying Synagogues

At least 11 of 21 Cabinet ministers plan to vote Sunday against demolishing more than 20 synagogues in Gush Katif. Only three have said they will vote in favor. Sharon is sitting on the fence.<BR><br/>

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Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, | updated: 22:47

Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz surprised Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Thursday night with his announcement that he personally would not order the IDF to tear down synagogues and that he will bring up the issue before the Cabinet.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said, "A Jew does not destroy a synagogue." He added that if the PA cannot restrain Arabs from demolishing or desecrating the buildings, "the world will know with whom we are dealing."

Haifa Chief Rabbi She'ar Yashuv Cohen, a member of the Council of Chief Rabbis of Israel, said Israel already has set a precedent for preserving houses of worship. He explained that the government has built a wall around five mosques in central Haifa which no longer are used by Moslem worshippers. "We want the same thing [for the Gaza synagogues]," he said.

Almost all of the Likud ministers have said the houses of worship should be left standing, despite fears that Arabs will desecrate or damage the buildings or use them to mock their original use. All holy objects have been removed from the buildings.

The only ministers who have stated they will vote for demolition are Labor ministers Ophir Pines (Interior), Matan Vilani (Science) and Chaim Ramon, minister without portfolio. Sharon, Vice Premier Shimon Peres, Finance Minister Ehud Olmert and Likud Ministers Meir Sheetrit (Transportation) and Tzipi Livni (Justice) have not said how they will vote.

Likud Ministers who have come out in favor of saving the synagogues are Mofaz, Shalom, Yisrael Katz (Agriculture), Danny Naveh (Health), Limor Livnat (Education), Abraham Hirschson (Tourism), Gideon Ezra (Public Security) and Tzachi HaNegbi, minister without portfolio.

Labor ministers Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Infrastructures), Shalom Simchon (Environment) and Dalia Itzik (Communications) have sided with them and will vote against the destruction.

The Supreme Court Thursday evening removed legal obstacles to demolishing the sanctuaries, but pressure against the destruction has been mounting from within Israel and from American Jewish leaders, who fear that destroying them would set a dangerous precedent. They said that foreign countries, particularly Moslem nations as well as Diaspora Jewish communities, will feel free to do the same as Israel and tear down synagogues.

Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger said that sanctity of the synagogues could be declared void if another synagogue is built for the community, but added that he changed his mind concerning the structures in Gush Katif after receiving many complaints from abroad.

Haifa Chief Rabbi Cohen said Diaspora Jewish leaders are afraid that destroying the synagogues would set a precedent in countries where they have been preserved as historical sites.

Expelled Ganei Tal contractor Dov Zussman, who built the community's synagogue 22 years ago, has dismantled the inside elements of the building. The podium, stained glass windows and the ark where Torah scrolls were kept have been removed and saved for future use.

The PA has demanded several times that Israel demolish the synagogues to save it from an awkward political situation. PA officials have said they cannot guarantee that their constituents will not destroy the buildings, an act which would further tarnish the PA’s image outside of Arab countries.

Appeals also have been made to the IDF that it not destroy synagogues in the four northern Samaria communities from which Jewish residents were expelled last month. They pointed out that the area, unlike Gush Katif, remains under Israeli authority, even though the IDF plans to give the PA responsibility for security in the area.