Former Shas maverick MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem has decided to join the Likud party, he announced on Facebook Tuesday night.
Amsalem had been in contact with Bayit Yehudi for a long period, with hopes of joining the national-religious party. He said on his Facebook page that these efforts were ultimately not successful.
Speaking on Wednesday with The Jerusalem Post, however, he was heavily critical of Bayit Yehudi’s stance on a bill proposed by Hatnua MK Elazar Stern for reforming the conversion process, and said he had decided not to join the party because of this issue.
“During my last contact with Bayit Yehudi some three weeks ago, it became clear to me that they have taken the hard-line national- religious and even haredi (ultra-Orthodox) position on the issue of conversion, which is something I cannot come to terms with,” Amsalem said.
He said that the most central concern of his at present was the prevention of assimilation and the adoption of a more accessible and reasonable conversion process.
“If Bayit Yehudi is going in the other direction, if there is no chance to solve this problem with them, then there is nothing for me with them [and] joining such a party would be a waste of my time,” he said.
Stern’s conversion bill proposes to decentralize the conversion process away from the Chief Rabbinate and empower chief municipal rabbis to establish their own conversion courts. Amsalem noted that chief municipal rabbis were able to conduct conversions until the tenure of Chief Rabbis Yisrael Meir Lau and Bakshi Doron, beginning in 1993, who he said removed the authority of city rabbis and centralized the process.
He also had harsh words for the party for defending the Chief Rabbinate’s position on several issues, principally that of conversion.
“The haredi world continually slanders Bayit Yehudi and the national-religious community, it says they are Amalek and the home of non-Jews and all these other insults, and instead of sticking up for their own path, they continually bow their heads,” he said.
Before the next general elections, Amsalem will need to contest for a spot in the primary elections that Likud holds to be selected for its electoral list of candidates for Knesset. Entry onto the Likud ticket may be difficult for him given the fiercely contested nature of Likud primaries and his lack of political roots in the party.
He said, however, that he was convinced he would be able to secure a sufficiently electable position on the list.
In the 2013 elections, Amsalem established and ran his Am Shalem party for Knesset which garnered 45,000 votes, equivalent to more than one Knesset seat but not sufficient to pass the electoral threshold.
He said that the votes he could bring to Likud would be enough of an incentive to convince its membership to vote for him in the primaries.
Speaking to the Post, Senior Citizens Minister and Bayit Yehudi MK Uri Orbach, who was involved in the negotiations with Amsalem, denied that it was the issue of conversion that prevented him from joining the party.
Orbach said that Amsalem’s demands from the party were too high, although he would not go into specifics, but said he believed it was a mistake for him to join the Likud, and that it would have been easier for him to get elected with Bayit Yehudi.
The minister said he still valued and respected Amsalem and accepted some of his criticism about the party’s attitude to matters of religion and state.
“We should not always bow our heads to the opinion of the Chief Rabbinate, especially when there are factors influencing the position of the chief rabbis from above their heads,” Orbach acknowledged.