The State Conversion Authority came under heavy fire from the state comptroller
for not fulfilling targets to convert Israelis of Jewish descent who are not
Jewish under Jewish law, in his annual report.
The report’s chapter on
conversion, covering the years 2008 to 2011, highlighted several administrative
failures of the Conversion Authority and argued that these shortcomings were in
part responsible for the low conversion statistics and the deficiencies in this
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a
mass immigration of Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe created an influx of
people that – while eligible for citizenship under the Law of Return by having
at least one Jewish parent – were not Jewish according to religious law, which
requires the person’s mother be Jewish.
By 2009, the number of Israelis
of Jewish descent, but not recognized as Jews, stood at 318,000. Prominent
public figures, both religious and secular, and NGOs working in this field,
urged the government to increase conversions to prevent the ongoing phenomenon
of intermarriage caused by a group of this size.
The State Comptroller’s
Report cited a 2008 speech by then-prime minister Ehud Olmert in which he stated
that “we cannot reconcile ourselves to the fact that there are nearly 350,000
Israeli citizens who chose to live in Israel, who chose to tie their fate to the
fate of the Jewish people, but that the tools and opportunity to bring them into
the Jewish people have not been created.”
A government decision that same
year recognized the issue and put forth an annual target of 8,300
But this was never met.
In both 2008 and 2009 there were
just over 6,000 converts, in 2010 approximately 4,700 and in 2011 around
The initial decline can largely be attributed to the tail-off in
Ethiopian immigration, since all Ethiopian immigrants require conversion, but
the number of converts of non-Jewish Israelis of Jewish descent from the former
Soviet Union remained below 2,000 in 2007 and every year since.
result, the total population of non-Jewish Israelis of Jewish descent has grown
since 2009 and, as of 2011, reached a total of 327,000 people.
the large amount of resources put into the Conversion Authority, the number of
converts is not increasing and has even decreased and the targets are not being
reached,” the report said.
“The Conversion Authority must examine the
reasons for failing to fulfill the 2008 targets, in consultation with relevant
professionals and organizations dealing with this issue.”
Stern, vice president of research at the Israel Democracy Institute, heavily
criticized the findings of the report and the failure to increase the rate of
conversion of non-Jewish Israelis of Jewish descent.
“The report shows a
striking failure of the government to carry out its decisions with regard to
this mission of national importance,” said Stern.
“Failure of the
government to foster conversion, among those who are not Jewish according to
Jewish law but consider themselves part of the Jewish people, has serious
consequences. Most Israeli Jews are opposed to assimilation.
Yet, if we
do not address the issue of conversion, assimilation will become commonplace in
the State of Israel.”
Itim, an independent religious services advisory
body which has frequently criticized the conversion authority, said the findings
of the report were not surprising and called for the adoption of its
“The State of Israel declared itself to be a state for
the ingathering of the exiles and appropriate administration of the conversion
system should be of paramount interest.
Loving the stranger is [a]
fundamental pillar of our existence as a Jewish and democratic state and this
report should lead to rapid change,” the organization said.
to the failure in fulfilling conversion targets, the report pointed to several
serious administrative problems.
One of the most important was the high
drop-out rate, and significant number, of conversion candidates from the
In 2008, 20 percent of candidates left the course,
followed by 22% in 2009, 32% in 2010 and 26% in 2011 – representing on average a
quarter of all candidates.
The state comptroller pointed to the failure
to implement a 2008 government decision to create a ministerial committee and a
steering committee to advance the issue of conversion.
Also, the report
pointed out that the Conversion Authority does not have a regular framework for
oversight and inspection, which negatively impacts its effectiveness.
report slammed the Exceptions Committee of the Conversion Authority which deals
with foreign citizens in Israel seeking to convert. It pointed to the operative
guidelines of the committee – devised by the justice minister, interior minister
and the chief rabbis – that established certain threshold criteria for a
candidate to even be considered for conversion.
The report said that for
many foreign citizens seeking to convert who did not fulfill this criteria, they
were then denied the ability to join a conversion course.
intent of these people is to bind themselves to the Jewish people or to marry
their Jewish partner according to Jewish law.
Their sincere intent to
convert is not examined at all by the committee because they are rejected
outright by threshold criteria,” the report stated.