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Lieberman growling at podium 311 AP.(Photo by: Associated Press)
Israel Beiteinu rejects compromise on conversion bill
Party leader Avigdor Lieberman says Shas's opposition to bill is an attempt to impose its own authority on the army, nothing else.
Israel Beiteinu leader Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman roundly criticized coalition partner Shas's opposition to its proposed bill to create a military conversion authority independent from the Chief Rabbinate.

"Shas's position has no relation to religion or Jewish law. It is simply an attempt to assert its own authority over the army," said Lieberman. "Is the army chief rabbi a heretic," Lieberman asked rhetorically. He continued, the [army chief rabbi] is not familiar with Judaism? Can he not sign the certificates of conversion for IDF soldiers?"

"Israel Beiteinu will not accept any compromise, no deferred vote, and no [backroom] deals. We will pass the bill on the first, second and third readings as soon as is possible," Lieberman stated forcefully.

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Lieberman's Sunday remarks echoed those made by fellow Israeli Beiteinu MK David Rotem earlier in the day.  In an interview with Army Radio, Rotem announced his opposition to the creation of two separated conversion tracks to Judaism in Israel.

"Two types of conversion is not good from a legal standpoint," Rotem said during the interview. "Now they [Shas] are creating a division between civil conversions and army conversions."

He continued, "I invited those who work on the issue of conversions in the field [to testify before the Knesset]. The IDF conversion are valid and done according to halacha. They [the IDF converts] are Jews."

With two key coalition parties going head-to-head in Sunday’s government meeting over IDF conversions, Israel Beiteinu has threatened that government acquiescence in Shas’s opposition to an Israel Beiteinu- sponsored bill would constitute a violation of their coalition agreement.

The government was expected on Sunday to debate and vote on an appeal by Minister-in-the- Prime-Minister’s-Office Meshulam Nahari (Shas) against the Ministerial Committee for Legislation’s decision to support the bill. Shas believes the bill is a breach of the status quo on affairs pertaining to religion.

Religious Affairs Minister and Shas MK Ya'acov Margi responded on-air to Rotem's criticism of Shas's opposition to a proposed bill to recognize the autonomous and legitimate state of military conversions, effectively detaching them from the supervision of the Chief Rabbinate.

"We have no problem with IDF conversions. There is nothing to check," said Margi during an interview on Army Radio. "We stand with Rabbi Amar's position. He has no problem with the conversions and we will defer to his judgment."

Margi added, "We don't want in Israel a multiplication of [Jewish] sects. One conversion for everyone that is the goal of a legislative compromise."

Rotem responded to Margi's words saying, "this is not acceptable. [Margi's] response is neither A nor B. All IDF soldiers are more important than any deference to any leader." He added,  "You are playing with the lives of soldiers."

Jonah Mandel contributed to this report.
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