Kosher food labeling could turn into the first major coalition crisis for Binyamin Netanyahu's relatively new government, as Kulanu and Shas spar over a bill that would make the Chief Rabbinate the sole source of authority on what can be marketed as kosher.
Shas MK Yoav Ben Tzur's bill would require restaurants and catering halls to either display their kashruth credentials from the Rabbinate – or explicitly state that they are not kosher. It was supposed to come up for a vote Sunday in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation but the vote was postponed due to bickering over the bill's wording.
The bill goes beyond the current system of “positive affirmation” of kashruth, in which an eatery displays a certificate that it has been inspected by the Rabbinate. According to sources in the Knesset, the objective of the bill is to foil attempts by non-Rabbinate organizations to provide supervision of food, without relating to whether or not an establishment operates on Shabbat; several supervision organizations have of late distributed certificates attesting to the kashruth of restaurants that operate on Shabbat, while the Rabbinate denies such establishment certificates. The bill promises stiff penalties for violators of the law.
Kulanu MKs oppose the bill, which they say will interfere with freedom of commerce. Speaking with Israeli media, several MKs said that they would fight the bill's adoption. MK Rachel Azaria of Kulanu called the bill “problematic, because it will damage many businesses. In addition, it is a gross violation of the status quo on religion.”
Kulanu MKs were also bitter over the failure of a bill proposed by MK Ro'i Falkman to be considered by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, and pointed to this fact as a factor in their opposition to the Shas bill. Falkman's bill would require the state to pay its bills to independent contractors within 30 days, as opposed to the 60-90 days that the law allows.
The Kulanu MKs said that they suspected that the Committee, which includes several Shas MKs, decided not to discuss Falkman's bill because of Kulanu's opposition to the Shas bill. Kulanu MKs said that they hoped that the dispute would not turn into a coalition crisis – but that anything was possible.