Prime Minister’s conversion committee still not established one month on

Member of Knesset Elazar Stern has accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of stalling through this committee and preferring to preserve his coalition rather than repair Diaspora relations.

Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A committee that is supposed to tackle the controversy over Jewish conversion has still not been established, one month after a damaging crisis broke out with Diaspora Jewry.
At the end of June, cabinet ministers approved government support for a bill that would give a monopoly over conversions to the Chief Rabbinate, causing outrage from ments and moderate elements in the National-Religious community.
Together with the cancellation of the Western Wall agreement, the conversion bill generated fierce reactions from Jewish leadership in North America, with the heads of major Jewish organizations and Jewish congressmen expressing their disapproval.
The bill, advanced by haredi parties United Torah Judaism and Shas, was motivated by a petition to the High Court of Justice by the progressive Jewish movements that could result in the granting of Israeli citizenship to non-Orthodox converts.
Following the heavy condemnation from Diaspora leaders, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brokered an agreement in which the Reform and Masorti (Conservative) movements agreed to freeze their High Court petition and the haredi parties agreed to freeze their legislation for a period of six months.
In the interim, a committee was to be established with representatives from all the relevant parties to work out a permanent solution.
The Jerusalem Post has learned, however, that the committee has not yet been established and representatives have not been appointed.
Yizhar Hess, director of the Masorti Movement in Israel, said no one has been in contact since the temporary agreement was reached.
Officials from United Torah Judaism chairman Ya’acov Litzman and UTJ MK Moshe Gafni also said they have not yet been contacted by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Hess expressed concern that there is still no progress on setting up the committee.
“A month has already passed with no signal from the Prime Minister’s Office about the conversion bill. We do not see that there has been a serious attempt to put together such a committee,” he said.
Hess noted that the positions of the progressive movements and haredi parties will be extremely hard to reconcile and that it would be prudent to formulate the committee as quickly as possible.
“It’s obvious that we will not relinquish our right to convert in Israel. It’s part of the basic principle of the Jewish state that all streams will feel at home in Israel,” he said.
“We will always say yes if the government wants to speak to us. We’re not looking for fights. We’re looking for the unity of the Jewish people – it’s not dignified for the Prime Minister’s Office not to put the team together, because the challenges are huge.”
Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern, who has fought for greater flexibility in the conversion system, said he was “not surprised” by the delays, saying it was obvious “from the beginning that Netanyahu prefers to preserve his coalition at the cost of the deepening rift with the Jewish Diaspora.”
“It’s clear to any intelligent person that the establishment of this committee by the prime minister was designed to stall,” Stern added. “Unfortunately, this time the harm the government of Israel has caused to Diaspora Jewry has continued, and the disconnect between the country and its Diaspora has widened, in particular among the younger generation, harm which will make it harder for us to repair.”
The office of Shas chairman and Interior Minister Arye Deri did not respond to a request for comment.