Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) is working to change identity cards so that they once again state the holder’s religion and thus prevent non-Orthodox converts from being defined on their IDs as Jews.
Yishai, in the same post 10 years ago, was ordered by the High Court of Justice to recognize Reform and Conservative converts as Jews. All IDs issued since then have had eight small stars on the nationality line instead of a religion.
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Those who were defined as Jews on their ID cards, issued up to 2002, will retain that wording, but new converts will not have that, Channel 10 reported on Monday evening. It remained unclear what a non-Orthodox convert might be defined as in the space for nationality.
Officials in the Justice Ministry involved in the initiative were opposed to it, according to the report.
The Reform Movement in Israel issued an urgent letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, calling on him to exhibit the same leadership he showed around the conversion crisis last year when he thwarted Israel Beiteinu’s conversion bill, and to order Yishai to desist from his actions, which are aimed at “harming the recognized rights of Reform and Conservative converts” and could cause an unnecessary rift in the Jewish people.
According to a spokeswoman for the movement, Yishai’s move was motivated by pressure from Holocaust survivors, who didn’t want their new ID cards – to be issued in two years – to appear without the nationality clause. A spokesman for Yishai did not respond to repeated queries from The Jerusalem Post
on Monday night regarding that point.
The head of the Israel Movement for Progressive (Reform) Judaism, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, said that “the use of Holocaust survivors only exposes how low Yishai will stoop in his battle with Reform communities, which treat converts [leniently]. We have no doubt that like other similar unsuccessful maneuvers in the past 30 years, this one won’t work either, and are confident that thousands of Israelis will continue to undergo conversions via Reform communities and register in the Interior Ministry as Jews.”
Masorti (Conservative) Movement CEO Yizhar Hess called the decision “cynical and malicious.”
“Instead of embracing the converts, Yishai is humiliating them. Most of the Jewish people are Reform and Conservative, but a fundamentalist haredi minority is making Israel look bad, just when it needs the Jewish people more than ever,” Hess said.
“Yishai is a strategic threat to Israel as the nation of the Jewish people and a democratic state,” he said.