The Likud party has agreed to a demand from ultra-Orthodox parties to end official state recognition of conversions performed outside the Chief Rabbinate as part of ongoing coalition negotiations, Channel 13 reported Monday.
After years of waiting in vain for the Knesset to pass legislation on the issue of conversions, in March 2021 the High Court of Justice ruled that any conversion performed by an established community in Israel, including from the Reform or Conservative movements, would be recognized by the state for the purposes of citizenship (for religious purposes, Israel still only accepts conversions through the official, Orthodox system). Earlier this year, the court issued a ruling also recognizing conversions performed by Orthodox, but non-Rabbinate, conversion courts in Israel for citizenship purposes.
These rulings were furiously denounced at the time by Haredi political parties and have continued to be the subject of fierce criticism since then.
According to the unsourced Channel 13 report, the ultra-Orthodox parties — the Sephardi Shas party and Ashkenazi United Torah Judaism party — demanded that the future coalition pass a law submitted last year by Shas parliamentarians, which would effectively overturn those High Court rulings. The “State Conversion Law,” as it was called, would give official recognition only to conversions performed through the government’s Conversion Authority, which only recognizes conversions from the Chief Rabbinate, a small number of non-Rabbinate ultra-Orthodox conversion courts, and a military-affiliated program that converts IDF soldiers.
This would not affect recognition of non-Orthodox conversions performed abroad, which have long been accepted by Israel for the purposes of citizenship.
The bill would also not work retroactively, meaning those who have already received citizenship based on these alternative conversions would not have it revoked.
The head of the Reform movement in Israel, Anna Kislanski, slammed the Likud party’s reported concession, saying such a bill would alienate progressive Jewry.
“The apparent shameful surrender by Likud to the demand of the extremist ultra-Orthodox parties to pass a law that would end recognition of Reform conversions in Israel will have only one result: In its 75th year, the State of Israel will cease to be the homeland of the entire Jewish people,” Kislanski said in a statement.
“We call on the prime minister to continue to accept the thousands of women and men who have chosen to tie their fate to the Jewish people and to the State of Israel through respectful Reform conversion and to prevent a situation of [Israel] divorcing itself from liberal Jewry, which represents the majority of the Jewish people,” she said.
According to the movement, some 300 people convert through Reform rabbis each year, though most of these conversions are not for the purpose of Israeli citizenship.
Labor Knesset member Gilad Kariv, a Reform rabbi, also denounced the reported decision, saying it would make Israel a “leper” among world Jewry.
Kariv accused Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu of hypocrisy, as his second wife, Fleur Cates, converted to Judaism through the Conservative movement.
“When Netanyahu’s second wife went through a Conservative conversion, that was ‘kosher’ enough for him. Today, he sells out the unity of the Jewish people and the connection to the Diaspora for an unkosher and dangerous agreement,” Kariv said.
The presumed next government is on track to be Israel’s most religious, with a majority of the 64-seat coalition being Orthodox parliamentarians.
As a result, the coalition is expected to make a number of changes to reinforce the power of the Chief Rabbinate and the Orthodox hegemony in Israel in general.