The Yisrael Beytenu party lambasted a bill that would require the state to recognize only conversions completed under the auspices of the ultra-Orthodox-dominated Chief Rabbinate of Israel.
The legislation, called the National Conversion Bill, will be brought before the Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday, where Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman said he would veto it.
The measure, which was submitted last month by the Interior Ministry led by Aryeh Deri, head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, appears to constitute 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.
The legislation would also 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 but cannot marry under the auspices of the rabbinate.
The bill would also mean conversions by the national-religious Tzohar organization would not be recognized.
Liberman, who is also Israel’s defense minister, said late Thursday that the bill would “lead to severe discrimination, and because of that we could lose hundreds of thousands of our people or those interested in converting, including those who served in the Israeli military.”
The bill, he warned, “would deepen the rift among the Jewish people. The role of conversion must be an acceptance of those asking to be part of Judaism, and not rejection and conflict between the State of Israel and Jewish groups.”
Yisrael Beytenu, a party whose strength relies mainly on the Russian immigrant electorate, said that according to the coalition agreements from 2015, any change in the relations of religion and state must be accepted by all coalition parties in a special committee dedicated to this issue. The party says no such discussion was held on the National Conversion bill.
According to a report on Channel 2, Yisrael Beytenu MK Robert Ilatov has written to coalition chairman David Bitan and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (both Likud), noting that Yisrael Beytenu “strongly opposes” the bill and will veto the possibility of it advancing.
Ilatov wrote that the law would create “serious discrimination, it will split the Jewish people and it will significantly harm many Israeli citizens who have served and continue to serve in the IDF, among the immigrant public and among the Jews outside Israel.”
“It cannot be that a bill changing the existing status quo will not [first] be discussed by the special committee as needed, before being sent to the Ministerial Committee on Legislation.”
Ilatov wrote that his party demands that since the bill was not filed according to the conditions agreed upon in the coalition agreements, all coalition members should vote against it on Sunday, because they are bound by “coalition discipline.”
Rabbi Shaul Farber, chairman of the Itim organization that led the initial appeal to the High Court of Justice and one of the founders of the private courts of Giyur K’Halacha, said Sunday’s ministerial discussion would be a trial for Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beytenu).
“Landver has made it clear that she carries the banner of easier conversion and of helping immigrants integrate in Israeli society, and this is her official role today,” he said. “The eyes of immigrants are watching her to see – will she cave in to the ultra-Orthodox parties and let the immigrants down? Not blocking this law in the ministerial committee on legislation on Sunday would be the final surrender of Landver and of her party and the raising of a white flag in the struggle on behalf of immigrants.”
Deri said Yisrael Beytenu’s adamant opposition was out of place and that the bill would pass, because it “is in agreement with the heads of [coalition] parties and is intended to preserve the status quo. Minister Liberman will not torpedo the conversion law, just as he does not torpedo laws by other coalition partners.”