Israel Beiteinu, Shas lock horns over IDF conversion bill

Government is expected on Sunday to debate and vote on an appeal by Shas against decision to support the bill.

By REBECCA ANNA STOIL, JONAH MANDEL
December 12, 2010 02:20
2 minute read.
David Rotem.

David Rotem 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )

With two key coalition parties going head-to-head in Sunday’s government meeting over IDF conversions, Israel Beiteinu threatened that government acquiescence in Shas’s opposition to an Israel Beiteinu- sponsored bill would constitute a violation of their coalition agreement.

The government is expected on Sunday to debate and vote on an appeal by Minister-in-the- Prime-Minister’s-Office Meshulam Nahari (Shas) against the Ministerial Committee for Legislation’s decision to support the bill. Shas believes the bill is a breach of the status quo on affairs pertaining to religion.

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The bill, drafted by Law and Constitution Committee chairman David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) together with Israel Beiteinu faction chairman Robert Ilatov, would grant autonomous and legitimate status to the conversions taking place in the IDF, effectively detaching the military conversion courts from the Chief Rabbinate.

Rotem said the bill would ensure that all conversions ever carried out under the army’s auspices will be recognized and irrevocable.

“The Shas ministers are trying to twist reality and claim that the bill will harm the status quo, but it is clear that the real harm to the status quo was done when the Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Shlomo Amar, did not express clear support for the IDF conversions, and did not take steps against those who cast doubt on them,” Rotem said. “In the past, Amar praised this conversion process.”

Sources in Israel Beiteinu said the party’s coalition agreement included a clause saying that every time the religious status quo was violated, the government would immediately work to restore the previous situation.

“I don’t see any reason for the government ministers to vote against the legitimacy and kashrut of the IDF conversion system, and in doing so, reinforce the mark of Cain that some are trying to place on those who converted during their military service,” Rotem said in advance of the Sunday vote. “I don’t see any reason for the bill not to pass.”

Asked if Shas would quit the coalition if Rotem’s bill became law, a senior party official answered that “Shas will vote as it sees fit in the Knesset plenum and in committees, without taking the coalition’s opinion into consideration.”

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the head of Shas’s Council of Torah Sages, instructed his party’s ministers to keep the bill from passing nearly two weeks ago, and Amar has gone so far as to warn Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that if the latter did not prevent “the passing of the bill to disconnect the conversions conducted in the military from the Chief Rabbinate,” he would consider himself no longer responsible for any matters pertaining to conversions.

“I see in this bill no concern for the soldiers undergoing conversions, rather a clear directive of destroying religion in Israel,” the chief rabbi wrote the premier a week and a half ago. “This is to inform you that if this bill passes, I won’t be able to deal with all matters of conversion, and will no longer bear the responsibility for them.”


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