Ultra-Orthodox threaten to bolt government if conversion bill endangered
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Ultra-Orthodox threaten to bolt government if conversion bill endangered

Head of United Torah Judaism faction sneers that Reform Jews 'wouldn't get 1,000 votes in an Israeli election'

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman attends a conference in Jerusalem, February 16, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Health Minister Yaakov Litzman attends a conference in Jerusalem, February 16, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman on Wednesday threatened to take his party out of the governing coalition if a bill cementing the ultra-Orthodox monopoly over religious conversions does not become law.

The bill, approved by cabinet ministers on Sunday but slammed by non-Orthodox Jewish groups in Israel and overseas, will pull the government’s recognition of private conversions, namely those not conducted by the Chief Rabbinate, if it completes passage through the Knesset.

It would negate the conversions of the Giyur Kahalacha private Orthodox conversion court, which was 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 (under regulations that say at least one grandparent must be Jewish) but who cannot marry under the auspices of the rabbinate, because according to Jewish religious law, a Jew who is not a convert must have a Jewish mother.

It would also rule out conversions by the nationalist-religious Tzohar organization.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who heads the Yisrael Beytenu party, which represents many immigrants from the former Soviet Union, opposes the bill. On Sunday, he said that in its current form, the legislation would deter anyone interested in growing closer to Judaism from converting.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, June 25, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, June 25, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

But on Wednesday, Litzman warned, “If they want to appeal against this or that, we won’t allow it — we’ll leave [the coalition] if we have to.”

He also lashed out at Reform Jews, who have been vocally protesting a second controversial cabinet decision this week — to scrap a plan for a pluralistic prayer pavilion at Jerusalem’s Western Wall.

“They don’t run for elections here in a democratic way like I and my colleagues do,” he said.

If they did, “I’m not sure they would get 1,000 votes,” Litzman added. “There are coalition agreements; everything is open and everything was on the Knesset table.”

Litzman heads the Agudath Israel party, part of the United Torah Judaism ultra-Orthodox faction in the Knesset.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs the support of both Yisrael Beytenu and the ultra-Orthodox parties to keep his governing coalition stable.

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