Coalition chiefs vow to advance religion and state reforms, enraging opposition

Liberman, Lapid, Michaeli say they’ll soon work to pass conversion reform, Western Wall compromise deal; ultra-Orthodox party leader calls it a ‘declaration of war’

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting at the Knesset on November 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting at the Knesset on November 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Several leaders in the ruling coalition said Monday that they intend to move forward soon with a number of controversial religion and state reforms, raising the ire of religious opposition members who decried it as a “declaration of war” on Israel’s Jewish identity.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said during a faction meeting that this month, his Yisrael Beytenu party will begin advancing a reform in conversions to Judaism and long-stalled plans to establish a permanent pluralistic prayer pavilion at the Western Wall. Both moves are bitterly opposed by the ultra-Orthodox parties and the conservative Religious Zionism party, all in the opposition.

The proposed conversion reform would allow any municipal rabbi to perform conversions, which are currently only allowed via the Chief Rabbinate.

The Western Wall deal was agreed in 2016 after years of negotiation between Diaspora leaders and the government of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but then frozen by the government in 2017 under pressure from the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties.

Addressing lawmakers from his right-wing secularist party, Liberman also touted the passage of the 2021 and 2022 budgets last week, a move that has given the coalition some measure of stability by averting the immediate threat of early elections. These would have been automatically triggered had the 2021 budget not been passed by November 14.

“The passage of the budget created an important asset that must be safeguarded, and this asset is political stability,” Liberman said. “I appeal to all party leaders — don’t surprise each other, don’t embarrass each other, so that everything is arranged and agreed upon ahead of time.”

In their own faction meetings, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli said their Yesh Atid and Labor parties would similarly work to implement the Western Wall compromise deal.

Shas party chair Aryeh Deri leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on August 2 2021.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The remarks were slammed by religious opposition members, including Religious Zionism MK Avi Maoz who heads the ultra-conservative Noam faction. Maoz charged that Liberman was “running amok with hatred of Judaism” and that the conversion reform would cause many to start distrusting the state’s conversions.

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri said: “The declarations by Lapid and Liberman that they intend to charge on with the offensive Western Wall deal and the law for conversions not according to Jewish la, are a declaration of war by the government of Israel against the state’s Jewish character.”

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