'Don't open front against Diaspora Jews'

Sharansky blasts "sneaky" additions to conversion bill.

sharansky in russia thinking 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
sharansky in russia thinking 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky on Tuesday joined the chorus of concern and criticism over an Israel Beiteinu conversion bill currently before the Knesset Law Committee.
The bill has gone through several iterations, in a process that was not transparent and lacked proper consultation with Diaspora Jewish representatives, including the agency, he said.
“This began as a bill about [granting official recognition to conversions performed by] municipal rabbis, which is something so natural and good from our perspective that we didn’t think anything of it,” Sharansky told The Jerusalem Post.
As negotiations between political parties and government officials progressed, however, the bill expanded to include elements “that we didn’t expect, such as issues of citizenship, ‘who is a Jew’ and conversions [by liberal movements].”
On Sunday, the New York-based American Jewish Committee slammed a paragraph introduced into the bill that would limit the citizenship rights of Jews who had converted in Israel, while ironically not affecting the rights of those converting abroad.
The bill is still the subject of intense negotiations between the various interested parties, including Shas and United Torah Judaism.
As the legislative process continues, possible changes are being made to the underlying nature of the Israel-Diaspora relationship without the transparency that would guarantee a careful, reasoned debate, Sharansky worries.
“The last thing Israel needs is to open a front against the many Jews who live in the Diaspora,” he said.
“The fact that changes entered [the bill] through the back door isworrying, especially since there’s no doubt someone did this onpurpose. We’re invited to talk about the role of municipal rabbis [onconversion courts], and suddenly we find [the right to] citizenship upfor discussion,” Sharansky complained.
“For this reason, it’s important to have an open discussion. As of now,I don’t know where this stands, because there’s a new version of thebill every few hours. We must not let such important issues be decidedin such sneaky ways.”