Chaos in Conversion authority as head is fired

Druckman says haredi pressures forced him out, but PMO cites his age and Civil Service Commission talks of 'shortcomings.'

Druckman 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Druckman 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The bruised and tattered State Conversion Authority is once again in turmoil after its head, Rabbi Haim Druckman, was unceremoniously dismissed by the Prime Minister's Office. The surprise development this week that the Prime Minister's Office would not renew Druckman's employment contract, which expires at the end of June, sparked a flurry of speculation regarding the motive. The Prime Minister's Office stated that Druckman's advanced age of 75 was the reason for the dismissal. The retirement age in the civil service is 67. Druckman was hired in 2004. Druckman, however, rejected that explanation. "I was already 75 when they renewed my contract," he told Army Radio on Thursday. "Doing this now is foolish and malicious. And the way it was done was disrespectful as well. No one talked to me, I just got a letter delivered to me by a messenger." Druckman said the Prime Minister's Office was kowtowing to haredi political pressure to oust him from his position. State-sponsored conversions to Judaism have been under attack since the High Rabbinical Court, the most senior rabbinic adjudicator in Israel, issued a legal decision several weeks ago that shed doubt on the legitimacy of thousands of conversions either directly performed by Druckman or overseen by him as head of the conversion authority. As a result of the legal decision, written by Rabbi Avraham Sherman and signed by two other rabbinic judges, the Jewishness of these converts who had lived for years believing they were full-fledged Jews under Orthodox law was questioned. Sherman was backed by the haredi community's spiritual leadership, which has been opposed to the very existence of the Conversion Authority and its raison d'etre: to make the conversion process more user-friendly. Druckman's claims about the reason for his dismissal were echoed by other religious Zionist leaders. National Religious Party Chairman Zevulun Orlev said the move was a victory for the strict haredi approach to conversion, which "locks the door to newcomers." Tzohar, a group of religious Zionist rabbis, also came to the defense of Druckman, asking Prime Minister's Office director-general Ovad Yehezkiel to reconsider the layoff. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Civil Service Commission mentioned another reason for Druckman's dismissal, in addition to his age. According to the spokesman, an investigation conducted by the commission found that, while there were no criminal offenses perpetrated by Druckman, there was "administrative shortcomings." "From the outset we were very reluctant to okay the hiring of Druckman due to his advanced age," said the spokesman. "He was brought in primarily to get the authority set up and running. He's completed that job. Now it is time to hire someone else. "The government has directed the Civil Service Commission to hire a replacement for Druckman. And that's what we are doing." A source inside the conversion authority said it was primarily the negative Civil Service Commission on Druckman that forced his dismissal. "The last thing the Prime Minister's Office wants to do right now is to fire Druckman," said the source. "It gives the impression that the prime minister is not facilitating conversions. But [there was] no choice after the Civil Service Commission's report."