Liberman demands coalition oppose controversial haredi legislation on conversion

Officials from the Likud, Bayit Yehudi and Kulanu parties were all reticent to comment on how their ministers would vote in the committee on Sunday.

June 24, 2017 02:31
3 minute read.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews look towards the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City

Ultra-Orthodox Jews look towards the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman has demanded that coalition ministers vote down a bill on Jewish conversion being advanced by the haredi parties.

The ultra-Orthodox parties’ legislation would grant the Chief Rabbinate a total monopoly over conversion in the country.

Liberman expressed strong opposition to the bill on Thursday, and insisted that such issues be discussed within the coalition and agreements be reached before the bill could be allowed to advance.

The bill is set to come before the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday for passage to the Knesset, but Yisrael Beytenu has demanded that the members of the committee vote down the proposal.

The party’s faction chairman, MK Robert Ilatov, has also demanded that the legislation be discussed first in the special committee on religion and state affairs, established when Yisrael Beytenu joined the coalition last year.

A clause of the party’s coalition agreement stipulates that all legislation on religion and state be deliberated and agreed upon first in the special committee before being advanced in the legislative process.

Officials from the Likud, Bayit Yehudi and Kulanu parties were all reticent to comment on how their ministers would vote in the committee on Sunday.

Efforts are also afoot to postpone a vote on the bill, The Jerusalem Post learned.

Yisrael Beytenu is extremely sensitive to the issue of conversion, given the approximately 330,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are not Jewish according to Halacha, many of whom are represented in the Knesset by Yisrael Beytenu.

Liberman has personally backed the independent Giyur Ke’halacha Orthodox conversion court, which the new haredi legislation is trying to stymie. The court utilizes less stringent criteria and methods for its conversions in order to convert large numbers of the immigrant community.

Giyur Ke’halacha has already converted nearly 400 people since it began operations at the end of 2015.

“This is a law that will divide the Jewish people, and does severe injury to Diaspora Jewry and the community of immigrants,” Liberman said on Thursday night after it became clear that the bill was on the agenda of the ministerial committee on Sunday.

He said the Jewish people would “lose hundreds of thousands of our people” should the law pass, meaning immigrants from the former Soviet Union and their children who might be interested in converting.

“We will strongly oppose this law, which not only is illogical, but will also harm immigration to Israel, will be lamented for generations and will set Israel back by decades,” said Liberman.

A spokesman for his party said Yisrael Beytenu would be demanding that the members of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation vote down the bill on Sunday.

He declined, however, to say whether or not the party would appeal the bill to the full cabinet if it is passed in the ministerial committee.

The legislation is a government bill that has been advanced by Shas and United Torah Judaism through the Interior Ministry, which is controlled by Shas chairman and Interior Minister Arye Deri.

The bill states explicitly that it is designed to reverse the new legal situation created by a ruling of the High Court of Justice in March 2016, which de facto granted the right of citizenship to Orthodox converts who were not citizens and who converted through independent Orthodox rabbinical courts and not through the State Conversion Authority.

This ruling was a blow to the Chief Rabbinate and the religious establishment and set a precedent whereby it was possible to envision a situation where the Chief Rabbinate would be forced to recognize non-state Orthodox converts for the purposes of marriage.

The bill is also explicitly aimed at preemptively overcoming a possible High Court ruling on a similar, pending case, which could see Reform and Conservative converts given state recognition like non-state Orthodox converts were last year.

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky has strongly criticized the proposed legislation and called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stymie the bill.

Like Liberman, Sharansky has also personally backed the Giyur Ke’halacha conversion court seeing it as an effective way of dealing with the conversion crisis.

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