UTJ head says party won’t join a coalition that doesn’t revoke conversion ruling

Referring to outrage over video implying non-Orthodox streams would even recognize dogs as Jewish, Gafni says he’d have made a ‘much worse’ clip featuring foreign workers

United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni arrives at a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on March 3, 2020, a day after the general elections. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni arrives at a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on March 3, 2020, a day after the general elections. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

United Torah Judaism party chief Moshe Gafni said Thursday that his party won’t join a coalition unless it finds a way to nullify a High Court ruling recognizing conversions to Judaism in Israel through the Reform and Conservative movements.

“We will not enter a coalition that does not have a legal solution for the High Court’s ruling on conversion,” Gafni told Army Radio.

The High Court of Justice ruled Monday that the Jewish state will be required to recognize non-Orthodox conversions to Judaism performed in Israel for citizenship purposes.

The bombshell ruling dents the ultra-Orthodox-dominated Rabbinate’s control over conversions in the country and was denounced by right-wing religious politicians, who vowed to advance legislation in the next parliament to overturn it, and by the chief rabbis of Israel.

People at the United Torah Judaism party headquarters in Jerusalem on March 2, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party has also said it would not join a future coalition that was not committed to overturning or legislating against the ruling.

Israel is holding its fourth election in two years on March 23. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will need the support of both ultra-Orthodox parties in order to have a chance of forming a coalition.

Screen capture from a campaign video released by the United Torah Judaism party. (YouTube)

Gafni also dismissed criticism of a campaign video from his party that disparagingly said that non-Orthodox denominations would recognize dogs wearing kippot as Jewish.

“I would have made much worse clips,” Gafni said.

“For instance, take a huge group of immigrants in south Tel Aviv and show what happens if their Reform conversion is recognized,” Gafni said, referring to the foreign worker and asylum seeker community.

In the video, a series of photos were shown featuring dogs wearing the traditional Jewish kippa on their heads and wrapped in a tallit, or prayer shawl. The images were apparently drawn from so-called Bark Mitzvah events held by some US Reform and Conservative Jews for their pet dogs.

Shas MK Moshe Arbel at a campaign event in Jerusalem on July 22, 2019. (Noam Revkin FentonFlash90)

Shas MK Moshe Arbel condemned the video in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster, saying there iwa widespread racism in the ultra-Orthodox world.

“I did not like it. There is huge racism across the entire Haredi public,” Arbel said. “When a Sephardi girl is not accepted to a seminary or to Beis Yaakov because her grandmother came from Morocco, is it not racism?”

Critics charge the schools maintain non-official quotas of Sephardic students, stemming from endemic racism against those whose families originate in Arab or Muslim lands, at the hands of an Ashkenazi, or European, elite.

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana of the Likud party also condemned the video. “No one should be compared to a dog, certainly not our dear brothers. I am outraged at this comparison,” Ohana told Army Radio.

But Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel said that it was not the court’s place to make decisions on conversions.

“I am in favor of all streams of Judaism having the ability to express their Judaism in Israel, but this should not be done in the form of High Court rulings. We need to be brave enough to make decisions,” Gamliel said.

The justices specified on Monday that they had previously withheld issuing a ruling to allow the state to handle the matter, but the state had failed to do so.

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