Ayalon, Rotem to reassure US critics of Conversion Bill

Deputy FM and Israel Beiteinu MK set to meet with Jewish leaders in New York.

By JONAH MANDEL
April 23, 2010 03:31
3 minute read.
Danny Ayalon at Nativ Haasara

Danny Ayalon JPost interview 311. (photo credit: Benjamin Spier)

 
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Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and MK David Rotem, both of Israel Beiteinu, will be heading to New York on Sunday for a series of meetings with Jewish leaders in a bid to pacify concerns in the Diaspora about the materializing Conversion Bill.

The bill’s original intent was to expand conversion powers beyond the specialized conversion courts to municipal and regional rabbis, thus opening the way for easier processes, but articles that appeared in the legislation during the drafting process might limit the rights of converts to make aliya.

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Ayalon told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the heads of American Jewry’s largest umbrella organization, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), had called on the Israeli government last month “to enter into dialogue with Diaspora Jews before making any proposed changes to the Law of Return.” In response to the concern, Ayalon and Rotem “decided to meet with leaders of the different Jewish movements and explain that their status will not be changed,” he said.

“We will be going to listen to them, continue a dialogue I started when I met with [Union for Reform Judaism president Rabbi] Eric Yoffie, Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt and others, to hear the concerns and be a vehicle for them to let all concerns be known here vis-à-vis the ultra-Orthodox [establishment in Israel],” explained Ayalon, who is a former ambassador to the US.

“We are not going to change the Law of Return in any way or shape. We want to continue to exchange thoughts and be very attentive to their concerns,” he added.

“Our main concern is to make sure there are no unnecessary rifts or concerns. Just like in a family, you have to solve it through dialogue. We are going to share with [the US Jewish leaders] as partners, brothers and sisters,” he went on.

“Their concern is that conversions taking place overseas might be affected, but they will not. We will be going over the nitty-gritty of the language of the law, and explain its meaning and future ramifications,” he said.



Ayalon will also be spending a day in Washington meeting with senior US administration officials on pressing issues such as the Palestinians and Iran.

Rotem, who penned the law and is also chairman of the Knesset’s Law Committee, expressed his confidence to the Post on Thursday that the discontent among US Jewry with the proposed law – which will not be voted on until the next Knesset session – resulted from insufficient knowledge of the bill’s details.

“The purpose of our trip is to explain what the bill says, and to show that things are not as they have been made to seem,” he said. “I am open to hearing [the representatives of the Jewish Federations’] remarks, but think they are not sufficiently acquainted with the bill,” Rotem said.

He noted that the concerns of federation representatives who met with him last month on the issue had been alleviated, “but there is still a need to give further explanations to broader audiences.”


Rotem reiterated that the law would not change.

“I’m not changing things for the Americans,” Rotem said. “The [clause determining that the right to citizenship according to the Law of Return will not apply to anyone who, before entering Israel, was not eligible to receive an immigrant’s permit or an immigrant’s document] does not deal with people who were in Israel two years ago, [but] with those who arrived in the country in order to undergo conversion to receive citizenship.

“The bill needn’t be open for changes since nothing in it needs to be changed,” Rotem reiterated. “Still, I’m willing to hear other opinions and people’s remarks. We all want the law to be as good as possible.”

Haviv Rettig Gur contributed to this report.

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