The Knesset State Control Committee on Wednesday accused the Conversion
Authority of foot-dragging on conversion applications, a lack of transparency
and the implementation of unauthorized procedural guidelines.
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committee’s ire was directed specifically at the Conversion Authority’s
committee for exceptional cases, which deals with anyone who is not a permanent
resident, such as spouses of Israelis who have married in a civil ceremony
abroad, students and those here on tourist visas.
Authority, which was established 15 years ago and operates under the Prime
Minister’s Office, oversees the bureaucratic process of a convert’s application
and is meant to help the applicant.
The exception’s committee includes
representatives from the Interior and Justice ministries and is headed by a
representative of Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who has overall authority over
conversions conducted in Israel.
“It is unacceptable that someone wishing
to join the Jewish people, and who has the appropriate documentation, should
have to endure a path of suffering that in the end causes him to despair of the
entire process,” State Control Committee chairman Ronnie Bar-On said during the
A State Comptroller’s Office representative said at the end of
the hearing that his office would examine the exception committee’s conduct in
2012 and would deal with the matter in a departmental report.
to ITIM: The Jewish- Life Information Center, a religious rights advocacy
organization that prompted the hearing, there are 10,000 couples in Israel in
which one of the spouses is seeking to convert but whose conversion process has
been delayed by the Conversion Authority’s exceptions committee.
rationale for discouraging conversion is based on the fear that thousands of
illegal foreign workers will convert to attain citizenship,” ITIM Director Rabbi
Seth Farber said. “But in the process the Conversion Authority is denying more
than 10,000 individuals who are eligible for citizenship the right to a Jewish
ITIM argues that the decision as to whether or not to allow a
conversion candidate to proceed should not be in the hands of the exceptions
committee but should instead be dealt with by a rabbinical court.
moment, applicants are just being rejected out of hand, without even being
interviewed by the committee,” Farber said.
He added that those worst
affected by the committee are Orthodox people who wish to marry a partner who
desires to convert, but will not marry them until the conversion is
Dina Sher, a woman seeking to marry an aspiring convert,
related her case during the hearing.
“I am religious and my husband is
from South America and we won’t get married before he converts. But the process
is far too slow for a couple who aren’t married.
The exceptions committee
rejected our request, and wouldn’t even agree to listen to my husband’s
conversion teacher who wished to testify as to his seriousness [to convert],”
Turning to Dr. Rafael Dayan, the chairman of the exceptions
committee, she told him, “I suffered for three years because of you, this is the
first time I’ve ever met you.”
The exceptions committee does not meet
personally with the conversion candidates, something that was criticized in the
hearing as well.
Dayan, rejected claims that the committee was not
functioning appropriately and said that in 2011 there were 187 non-Israeli
conversion applicants, 65 percent of whom have been approved.
to an inquiry by The Jerusalem Post, the Prime Minister’s Office said that new
guidelines had been established in June to improve the committee’s
ITIM says, however, that the new guidelines are unhelpful, as
anyone applying for conversion must now wait a year and a half after his or her
civil wedding before even applying for conversion. Until June, one could apply
The time it takes for the committee to provide an answer as
to whether or not the applicant can begin to study for conversion normally
ranges between six and 18 months, Farber said.
Those who do not get
married in a civil ceremony abroad but declare a common law partnership must
wait four years before applying for conversion, and the actual study process for
converting is, on average, one year.
Dayan also claimed that the
exceptions committee met once a week, although it was subsequently discovered
during the hearing that on average, the committee has met approximately once a
An attorney from the State Attorney’s Office said during the
hearing that although there are cases deserving of a simpler, easier path to
conversion, it is not possible that every person requesting to covert will be
allowed to do so.
MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima), who initiated the hearing,
was unimpressed with the responses provided by the committee representatives.
“The committee is acting in an improper, inefficient and cumbersome manner,” he
“The attempts to demonstrate that there have been improvements in
the committee’s approach are not satisfactory.
A drastic change is
required in the committee’s attitude and the criteria it has set [for
non-citizen conversion applicants].”