The hotly debated IDF conversion bill sailed through its preliminary reading in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday, but its future remains uncertain, with a coalition crisis threatening to erupt.
Although a triumphant Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman promised to pass the bill through its final readings within a month, coalition partners in United Torah Judaism and Shas were working to delay the votes, with Shas saying it had struck a deal with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
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Shas chairman and Interior Minister Eli Yishai threatened to pull his party out of the coalition if the legislation advances.
“The bill violates coalition discipline,” Yishai said. “We oppose advancing this bill. If this bill advances, we will see ourselves free from voting [with the government] in the Knesset and our coalition obligations.”
The bill, sponsored by Israel Beiteinu’s faction chairman Robert Ilatov and MK David Rotem, passed its preliminary reading by a vote of 74-18, after both coalition and opposition lawmakers streamed into the plenum to vote on the legislation.
The bill’s chief opponents were the two haredi parties, although two of the National Union’s four MKs also voted against the measure.
“This wasn’t a division between religious and secular,” Lieberman said after the vote. “This is a complex, deep and serious topic, and the time has come to deal with significant issues and not just technical legislation.”
He added that he “hopes that other significant topics like changing the system of government and loyalty-citizenship will also reach breakthroughs.”
The foreign minister said he believed the conversion bill could complete its hearings in the Law and Constitution Committee within a month.
That might have become less likely later on Wednesday, when House Committee chairman Yariv Levin (Likud) dragged his feet in scheduling a meeting to determine which Knesset committee will discuss the bill.
Levin is reportedly refusing to pass the bill on to the Law Committee, which is chaired by Rotem, complaining that Rotem has delayed Levin’s legislation that was supposed to be discussed in Rotem’s committee.
The strongest challenge to the measure’s advancement, however, will come from the same parties that voted against it in the plenum.
Religious Services Minister Ya’acov Margi of Shas also threatened that his party might leave the governing coalition if the IDF conversion bill passes its first reading in the Knesset.
“If the prime minister does not keep his promises and stop this bill making its ways through the Knesset, there is no doubt that this will be considered crossing some red lines and cause a serious crisis, even leading to a breakup of the coalition,” Margi told the haredi station Radio Kol Hai.
After the bill passed Wednesday’s Knesset reading, Shas released a statement attacking Israel Beiteinu and calling the party “Shinui Beiteinu” – meaning “a change inour home” and also referencing the liberal political movement
Later, the party also warned that it would begin to take revenge
on the government by advancing legislation opposed by it.
Next week, Shas
promised, the faction will bring MK Yitzhak Vaknin’s (Shas) Housing Law to the
plenum floor for a preliminary vote. Vaknin’s bill, which would give benefits to
young couples who buy homes in outlying areas, is opposed by the government
because of its cost.
But according to a report in Shas mouthpiece Yom
Leyom to be published on Thursday, Netanyahu promised Yishai that the military
conversion bill would not pass without Shas’s consent.
Rabbi Shlomo Amar landed in Israel on Wednesday afternoon, and his spokesman
said that the rabbi would be putting forth “his compromise” on the matter in an
orderly fashion on Thursday afternoon.
Shas members have stressed that
Amar wishes to resolve the issue of the signatures missing from the IDF
conversion certificates, and is strongly against Rotem’s bill.
Ovadia Yosef, head of the Shas Council of Torah Sages, also spoke out against
separating military conversions from the Chief Rabbinate, and called the current
problem with the IDF conversions “a technicality.”
In the meantime, Shas
hopes that it can still derail Rotem’s bill. Faction members hope that Amar will
be able to reach an agreement with IDF Chief Rabbi Brig.-Gen. Rafi Peretz and
the government that will satisfy Netanyahu and prevent Likud from supporting the
bill in its future readings.
As head of the country’s rabbinic courts,
Amar’s signature is needed on military conversion certificates, a technicality
that was overlooked for years. When asked to provide his name for the documents,
Amar said he needed to examine the IDF conversion process, and formed a
committee to advise him while issuing a letter saying the conversions were in
accordance with Halacha.
That committee fell apart shortly after its
inception, after which Rotem introduced his bill to give IDF conversions
independence from the Chief Rabbinate by bestowing power on the IDF chief rabbi
to be the final signatory on military conversions.
voting for Rotem’s bill, met on Wednesday with soldiers in the process of
military- sponsored conversion.
“I will continue working to advance the
issue of conversions in the IDF,” the prime minister told the soldiers. “One
thing is definite – you serve the state, and you deserve to be a full part of
the state. I think there is a wide consensus on that.
serves is entitled to conversion by Jewish law, it’s the least we can do. I am
happy about what we decided in the Knesset today. We will either resolve the
problem or legislate a solution to the problem. I hope the problem can be
resolved without further legislation, but one thing is certain: I won’t let
anyone harm you. The conversion process in the IDF is very successful, and we
will continue it,” Netanyahu said.
Opposition chairwoman Tzipi Livni
expressed doubt as to the sincerity of Netanyahu’s support for Rotem’s
“This bill must be passed into law.
This will be the
test of the coalition,” she told Channel 2.
“We in Kadima will do
everything possible to make sure it passes. The prime minister is not leading.
He is just working on mediating between his coalition partners and staying in
power. The prime minister doesn’t exist and the public will soon lead to his
fall from power.”
Peretz said on Wednesday that a single, unified
conversion authority is for the best for the soldiers undergoing conversion, and
that he didn’t think that legislation was necessary to fix the “technical
problem” of the lacking signatures on the conversion certificates.
military conversion courts are under the ongoing supervision of the Military
Rabbinate, and their conduct is to the satisfaction of the IDF chief rabbi,”
Peretz wrote in a letter addressed to Rabbi Haim Druckman, who heads the State
“It should be noted that the rabbinic judges
serving in the IDF conversion courts also serve in that capacity in the civilian
conversion courts,” Peretz said.
“As far as the IDF Rabbinate and its
chief rabbi are concerned, a single conversion is to be preferred.
IDF Rabbinate should be an extension of the Chief Rabbinate, it is better in
regards to the force of the conversion, and also to the benefit of the soldiers,
that the conversions will not be split,” he wrote.
“As far as the
technical change, it does not necessitate legislation,” Peretz
ITIM: The Jewish-Life Information Center, whose petition against
the Chief Rabbinate brought the problem with the military conversions to the
fore, issued a reserved statement on Wednesday.
matters should be resolved within the Chief Rabbinate and not on the Knesset
floor, but unfortunately the rabbinate leaves no choice.
can still neutralize the entire [legislative] process if it only displayed
leadership and responsibility, and issued a statement that the state’s
conversions are valid and recognized with no qualms...”
“It’s good that
the bill passed the preliminary reading, but what is really needed is that the
law be enforced among marriage registrars who refuse to recognize the
conversions conducted not only in the IDF, but also by the State Conversion
Authority,” ITIM head Rabbi Seth Farber said.
Gil Hoffman contributed to
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