Controversial clause holds up conversion bill in Law C'tee

Rotem won’t remove wording that would nix Law of Return option for those who convert after entering Israel.

March 9, 2010 04:10
2 minute read.
Controversial clause holds up conversion bill in Law C'tee

david rotem 248 88 aj. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])


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By a simple head count, Law Committee chairman David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) had enough votes in committee to pass his Conversion Law through to its first reading on the Knesset floor Monday, but Rotem chose instead to retain a controversial clause of the bill and thus could not find a single supporter among committee members.

According to sources close to the formulation of the bill, Rotem did not remove the clause restricting citizenship rights of converts because it was created by none other than the Justice Ministry under Yaakov Neeman, considered a close ally of Rotem’s party.

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Minutes before Rotem decided not to hold a vote on the bill Monday, the House Committee unanimously approved granting Rotem’s bill an exemption from any cooling-off period between committee votes and plenum votes, allowing him to advance the bill as quickly as he could pass it through his committee.

But it was in the committee that work on the bill ground to a halt, when Rotem’s potential new allies – Kadima, Labor and even Meretz – said they could only support the bill if Rotem removed the third clause, which states that anyone who “entered” Israel as a non-Jew (and did not have a father, grandparents or spouse who was Jewish and therefore was not eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return) and converted to Judaism at some later date, whether in Israel or abroad, would not be eligible for automatic citizenship.

Critics of the bill warned that the clause would prevent converts from attaining citizenship, and would institutionalize a secondary status for Jews-by-choice.

“The clause separates us from three million Jews overseas,” complained Masorti Movement director Yitzhar Hass during the meeting. “The last thing in the world that we would want to see is a clause that distances the Jewish people from the land of Israel.”

The clause was not in the original copy of the bill reviewed and approved by Shas representatives, and was one of a number of changes added prior to the bill’s first reading. The purpose of the clause remained unclear.

According to Rotem, it serves to prevent “foreign workers, border infiltrators and illegal Palestinian laborers” from claiming Israeli citizenship by converting. But opponents said the clause had been added in an effort to bypass an ongoing Supreme Court appeal that would have opened the door for recognition of non-Orthodox conversions.

“This is a legislative terror attack that is trying to hide serious damage behind the cover of dissembling verbiage,” said Rabbi Uri Regev, the head of Hiddush, an organization that supports religious freedom and equality.

“The bill emasculates the Law of Return, harms the courts’ authority, harms non-Orthodox converts and does not help other converts. The only way to solve the challenge of conversion is to eliminate the rabbinic monopoly. It would have been better for Rotem’s bill never to have been written.”

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