Rotem threatens to bring IDF conversion bill to Knesset

Move comes after Amar’s reported acquiescence to sign certificates delays cabinet vote by 3 days.

December 13, 2010 00:52
4 minute read.
David Rotem.

David Rotem 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )


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After the cabinet delayed a decision on a bill to confirm the status of conversions carried out by the IDF, Israel Beiteinu struck back on Sunday evening, threatening to put the coalition-splitting measure up for vote on the Knesset floor.

If action is not taken to ensure the status of IDF conversions by Wednesday morning, the bill that has pitted Israel Beiteinu against Shas will be placed before the Knesset.

Earlier on Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu pled with Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman to delay the vote on the legislation, which has already been approved as a government bill by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.

On Sunday, the government was set to debate and vote on an appeal by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Meshulam Nahari (Shas) against the committee’s decision to support the bill, which was supported by all except for the two Shas ministers on the panel.

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. Shas believes this constitutes a breach of the status quo on religious matters.

Rotem put forth the bill after Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar failed to unequivocally endorse the IDF conversions with his signature, a technicality that had been overlooked for years, but that was revealed a few months ago in a High Court of Justice hearing on a petition regarding annulled conversions.

Shortly after the court hearing, Amar issued a letter in which he wrote that the IDF conversions were recognized by the Chief Rabbinate. But at the same time, he asked to form a committee from within the Rabbinate that would advise him on those IDF conversions he would need to sign off on, as the law requires.

Amar had said he would prefer that the issue of military conversions be bound with the broader conversion bill that Rotem had also introduced. Upon realizing that he would not be able to do so, cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser said on Sunday, he resolved to try and resolve the IDF problem without further ado.

In recent days, intensive negotiations between the Prime Minister’s Office and Amar, who is currently out of the country, led to the understanding that the problem with the military conversions is considered a technicality by the rabbi, and will be resolved by him as soon as possible.

Based on this premise, Netanyahu, as well as the other ministers who had supported the bill in the ministerial committee vote, implored Lieberman to allow a few more days for the problems of IDF conversions to be resolved by Amar, rather than by legislation, which risked creating a second class of conversions in Israel. Most conversions in the country are now being conducted in the army.

If the problem is not resolved by the Chief Rabbinate, the cabinet will remove Nahari’s appeal and vote on the bill the same way the ministerial committee did, Hauser said on Sunday.

“There is no halachic problem with the conversions carried out by the IDF, and the only reason for the current argument is Shas’s desire to control the entire IDF conversion system,” Israel Beiteinu said in an official announcement on Sunday evening. “There is no reason to change anything and to make the IDF subordinate to the Chief Rabbinical Council, which is controlled by anti-Zionist elements who do not serve in the military.

“Since the state was established, Israel was the melting pot for the people of Israel, and there is no reason that soldiers, the citizens of the country who defend the state and are willing to give their lives for the state and who were converted according to the Jewish law practiced in the State of Israel should be harmed as a result of political deals.”

Israel Beiteinu officials indicated on Sunday evening they believed that they could get a majority in the Knesset to support the bill.

Should the bill be brought up for its preliminary reading on Wednesday, opposition party Kadima is likely to vote in favor.

“The government’s delay of the decision that was designed to unquestionably clarify that IDF conversions are legal and recognized crushes the legitimacy and ability to function of the IDF’s conversion system, which has successfully converted thousands of IDF soldiers over decades,” MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) said.

“Netanyahu once again preferred to make an anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish deal with Shas, at the expense of the convert soldiers who linked their fates with that of our country.”

Kadima officials accused Netanyahu of agreeing to delay the decision on the bill in exchange for promises from Shas that the party would not vote to establish a government investigative commission to probe the Carmel fire in which 43 people died.

“This was a cynical and pathetic action taken by a scared man who understands that the flames of the State Comptroller’s Report on the Fire and Rescue Service – which showed that he and his government abandoned Israel’s citizens – threaten to remove him from office,” Kadima spokesman Shmulik Dahan said.

“Netanyahu is trying, through any way possible, to flee from responsibility for the tragedy and is trading the conversion of IDF soldiers like money in his battle for personal political survival.”

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