(photo credit: Ronny Gordon)
Israel this weekend announced a new campaign against anti-Semitism that would have as its centerpiece a worldwide push over the next ten years to convert all of humanity to Judaism.
"The state of Israel has had only marginal success in solving what Theodor Herzl called 'the Jewish Question,'" Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a press conference Saturday night.
"I believe that our new campaign goes right to the heart of the problem. To paraphrase a famous saying: 'if you can't beat 'em convert 'em'." Israel will launch an international media campaign on Internet, radio, television and newspaper to encourage gentiles of all nations to embrace the Jewish faith, said Olmert.
Prospective converts will be able to learn the basic tenets of Judaism in a six-month online course. Those without Internet access will receive the material by carrier pigeons.
Leading Orthodox rabbis approved of the mass conversions as a way of saving Jewish lives.
"In light of growing anti-Semitism the Jewish people are in a perpetual life-threatening situation," wrote the Chief Rabbinate's Central Rabbinic Council. "Therefore, we permit mass conversions as the only option available."
Knesset opposition leader MK Binyamin Netanyahu [Likud] attacked Olmert's conversion campaign calling it "preposterous".
"Olmert's ridiculous suggestion shows an utter lack of understanding of history," said Netanyahu.
"Conversion will do nothing to solve the Jewish Question. Some of the Jewish people's biggest enemies were Jews." Netanyahu said that the most obvious example was Karl Marx.
"More than anyone else in history Marx made earning decent living nothing less than a mission impossible." Olmert said the campaign, which was first proposed by Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar, would start with Israeli Arabs and Palestinians.
"It's the easiest and most peaceful way of diffusing the demographic time bomb in our part of the world," said Olmert.
Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, the largest Muslim political movement in Israel, said that the offer was "a surprise" and "intriguing."
"We have respect for Judaism," said Salah. "But there will be no conversions until Israel dismantles all settlements in Judea and Samaria."
Amar said in a telephone interview that 613 new rabbinical conversion courts had been set up to handle the expected spike in demand. Three rabbinical judges would sit on each court.
"Not only will we gradually turn enemies into allies, we will also provide work for the haredi population," said Amar.
The chief Sephardi rabbi rebuffed criticism from leading haredi spiritual leaders who expressed fears that Orthodox conversion standards would be lowered to accommodate the wave of newcomers.
"Becoming a Jew is tough," said Amar. "And it is going to stay that way. It's not enough to say a few 'Hail Miriams' or 'Moses loves you.' "You've got to work hard!"
Amar said that there was a strong basis in Jewish law for encouraging mass conversions.
"It says in the Book of Esther, 'And many of the people of the land converted to Judaism, for the fear of the Jews fell upon them.' Today nobody is afraid of us. But lots of goyim are jealous."
Reform and Conservative leaders, protesting the government's decision to give the Orthodox chief rabbinate a monopoly over the mass conversions, petitioned the High Court of Justice.
"Prime Minister Olmert should know that his proposal, if implemented, would alienate over half of North America's Jews," said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, head of the Reform Movement.
The State of Israel will be working in coordination with Chabad, which has emissaries all over the globe, to facilitate the conversions abroad.
Menachem Mendel, a Chabad emissary in Lincoln, Nebraska, said that he would have to get used to the change in outreach techniques.
"Instead of asking people, 'Hey, are you Jewish?' I'll be asking, 'Hey, want to be Jewish?'" he said.
Rabbi Yehudah Avihayil, who has been searching for the ten lost tribes of Israel for over 30 years, was enthusiastic about the conversion campaign.
"Instead of searching for all those lost Jews we can just convert everybody," he said.