PM, FM clash over conversion bill

Netanyahu sources say he wants to prevent Knesset from passing bill.

Netanyahu, Knesset 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Netanyahu, Knesset 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Lieberman went head-to-head with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, insisting that his party’s conversion bill be brought to the Knesset plenum for a vote before the legislature’s summer session ends next week.
Sources close to the coalition leadership said that Netanyahu was still determined to prevent the bill from reaching the House floor next Wednesday, and promised that even if Netanyahu acceded to Lieberman’s demands, the bill would be defeated.
RELATED:PM: Conversion bill won't passBill aims to stop conversion annulmentsA Likud official told The Jerusalem Post that “in the bill’s current form, it was highly unlikely that Likud MKs would be able to support it.”
With staunch opposition to the legislation from both Labor and Kadima, the defection of Likud MKs would likely stymie the bill, sponsored by Israel Beiteinu MK David Rotem.
“Netanyahu doesn’t want the bill in its present form, because he wants to maintain the international unity of the Jewish people,” said sources close to the prime minister. “There is no concern for the state of the coalition. Lieberman says he wants to keep the coalition and so does Netanyahu, so they will find a way to work it out.”
If the bill becomes law, the full authority and responsibility for conversions in Israel would be in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate. The ramifications of this for conversions, and accordingly for the Law of Return, has raised concerns among leaders of liberal Jewish movements in the US and Israel.
To attempt to settle the issue, Netanyahu has enlisted his top advisers and is expected to meet privately with Lieberman on Thursday amid the debates over the state budget at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu and Lieberman’s lengthy meeting that takes place every Friday may be canceled due to the visit of US envoy George Mitchell.
Netanyahu also met on Wednesday with Rotem, but both sides denied reports that Rotem had threatened coalition leaders that if they did not allow his bill to be brought to a vote, he would begin to advance a second controversial bill that would authorize civil unions.
“Israel Beiteinu does not growl, it only bites,” said one Israel Beiteinu official in response to the reports of the argument between Rotem and coalition chairman MK Ze’ev Elkin (Likud).
Elkin also denied that Rotem had discussed the conversion bill with him, but said that Rotem had told him that he was disgruntled that a special committee formed to discuss his civil unions bill had yet to meet.
Meanwhile, American Jewish organizations lobbied Knesset members hard on Wednesday to ensure that if the vote were held, MKs would vote against the legislation.
Jewish Federations of North American head Jerry Silverman, MetroWest New Jersey Federation executive director Max Kleinman, and Conservative and Reform leaders met in the Knesset cafeteria with several cabinet members, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Labor), Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog (Labor) and Minister-without- Portfolio Bennie Begin (Likud), as well as with Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) and MKs Shlomo Molla (Kadima), Einat Wilf (Labor), Nachman Shai (Kadima), Shai Hermesh (Kadima), Dov Henin (Hadash) and Nitzan Horovitz (Meretz).
“We are very concerned. This will be extraordinarily divisive,” warned Kleinman. “This will drive a wedge between Israel and us."
“The bills won’t accomplish what they are trying to accomplish; if they require people to keep all 613 mitzvot, they won’t get a lot of business. We are concerned that the Chief Rabbinate will disqualify conversions like they did in the past.”
Kleinman reminded Israeli decision-makers that the same American Jews who oppose the current conversion bill “worked hard on behalf of Israel and against Iran in Congress, state legislatures and in the UN. The same people are very upset that Rotem broke the dialogue we had on the subject with Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky.”
Barak, in return, said he is very opposed to the bill and he would make that clear to the prime minister. He said he understood the bill would be divisive and have very grave ramifications. He hinted that he might take a major step to oppose it.