Holding the cards for army conversions

As of today, the future of conversions in the IDF is in the hands of Yariv Levin, a Likud MK who directs the “Vaadat Ha-Knesset,” a committee which decides where the review of the bill supporting army conversions will take place.  Below is an open letter to MK Levin:

Dear MK Levin:


This morning (December 26th), you proposed legislation in the Knesset that would allow for the retrieval of the remnants of the Altalena.  This symbolic boat and the affair that ultimately led to its destruction, exposed deep rifts between the main political factions in Israel in 1948. 


At present, you stand in a position to help another cause, much less symbolic and much more substantive, which has equally highlighted the factionalism that characterizes today’s Knesset.


Some three months ago, together with a number of partners, ITIM went to the Israeli Supreme Court to convince the State of Israel’s rabbinate to certify conversions performed through the special rabbinical courts, and through the IDF. Since then, because of statements made by the State’s legal team, more than 4500 individuals who converted in the IDF have had the legitimacy of their conversions questioned.


When we sued the rabbinate, we saw ourselves protecting Orthodox Jewish interests. Soldiers who converted in the IDF underwent Orthodox conversions, and were seen as Jewish by the overwhelming majority of Jews around the world. Only a few extremists questioned the authenticity of these conversions. And yet, these few serve in positions of power.


While our case is still pending, a number of MKs put forward legislation that would anchor the IDF conversions in law, and the bill has passed an initial reading in the Knesset. After a stormy session where 75 MKs voted for the bill, and a mere 18 voted against it, three committees were put forward to certify the bill.


The Knesset law committee, chaired by a member of the Russian immigrant party, will clearly move the bill forward quickly. The Knesset Internal Affairs committee, chaired by a SHAS member, will most likely bury the bill. And the Knesset Security committee will probably hedge its bets.


Mr. Levin:  We are talking about live Jews, not dead boats. This bill relates to the future of our people and our nation, not only the past of our ancestors. I know the Altalena is important to you, but Jewish unity must also be a priority.


Please overcome the inclination to use the IDF conversion bill as political barter, and find a way to move it forward quickly. In this case, that means passing it on to the Knesset Law Committee as soon as possible.


We can wait another day for the Altalena. But hundreds of couples can’t wait another day.  Please open the discussion on the bill at once. And let’s move forward.