American Jewish groups criticized a proposed Knesset bill that would require the state to recognize only conversions completed under the auspices of the ultra Orthodox-dominated Chief Rabbinate.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, urged the Israeli government to reject the proposed legislation, calling it “another step down a path of eroding the rights of non-Orthodox Jews in Israel and creating a monopoly on religion, to be led by the official government rabbinate.”

“It is a direct insult to much of world Jewry and a danger to the unity of the Jewish people,” he said in a statement.

The measure, which was submitted earlier this month by the Interior Ministry led by Aryeh Deri, head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, appears to be an effort to circumvent a March 2016 Supreme Court ruling that allowed those undergoing private Orthodox conversions in Israel to become citizens under the Law of Return. The ultra-Orthodox parties at the time vowed to submit legislation to neutralize the ruling.

Interior Affairs Minister and head of the Shas party Aryeh Deri speaks at El Hama'ayan Passover conference at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on April 13, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Interior Affairs Minister and head of the Shas party Aryeh Deri speaks at El Hama’ayan Passover conference at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on April 13, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In the wake of the 2016 decision, the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel asked the court for the same recognition of their private conversions in Israel. Jacobs’ statement was issued on the same day as a hearing took place in the court on that petition.

Only those who have been converted by the Reform and Conservative movement abroad are recognized now as Jewish for the purpose of immigration to Israel. The legislation would also negate the conversions of the Giyur Ka’halacha private Orthodox conversion court established two years ago largely in order to help Jews from the former Soviet Union who qualified as Jewish in order to immigrate to Israel but cannot marry under the auspices of the rabbinate.

Jacobs also said that “Deri’s proposed legislation has the virtue of honesty. He believes that only Orthodox religious authorities should be recognized by the State of Israel, so his legislation would make clear that non-Orthodox Jews in Israel will be treated as second-class citizens – and that non-Orthodox Jews around the world will only be fully welcome in Israel if they submit to the Orthodox monopoly.”

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the Union for Reform Judaism president, speaking at the movement’s biennial conference in Orlando, Florida, November 7, 2015. (Courtesy URJ)

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the Union for Reform Judaism president, speaking at the movement’s biennial conference in Orlando, Florida, November 7, 2015. (Courtesy URJ)

The Jewish Religious Equality Coalition, or J-REC, also released a statement condemning the proposed legislation.

“Passage of this discriminatory bill would be another major step backwards in securing Jewish religious equality in the Jewish state,” J-REC Chair Dov Zakheim said in a statement. “Israel needs additional measures to ensure that all expressions of Judaism, not just those acceptable to the Chief Rabbinate, are treated with dignity and respect, and that the path towards Israeli citizenship is open to those who convert outside of the Chief Rabbinate.”

J-REC, founded three years ago by the American Jewish Committee, is a broad-based coalition of American Jews, Israelis and Jewish organizations dedicated to the realization of full religious equality in Israel.