Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet on Sunday postponed until Wednesday a vote on an objection to the Israel Defense Forces conversion bill, a matter which had threatened to pull the coalition into crisis.
The Yisrael Beiteinu faction in the Knesset has proposed the bill that would prevent the Chief Rabbinate, controlled in part by ultra-Orthodox Jews, from intervening or disqualifying army conversions.
Shas submitted an objection to the Yisrael Beiteinu-sponsored bill on the grounds that it violates the coalition agreements. Yisrael Beiteinu made it clear that even if the objection was approved by the cabinet it would put its bill to the Knesset plenum on Wednesday as a private member's bill.
Yisrael Beiteinu chairman and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman ordered all party MKs to attend the session on Sunday and cancel any foreign travel plans, while Shas officials said their party's MKs would be permitted to vote their conscience and not be subject to coalition discipline.
Netanyahu called the conflict over the legislation "a technical problem," saying that it "can be solved by the country's Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar." Netanyahu added, "All of the soldiers and officers that underwent conversion in the IDF were converted according to religious law. They are part of our nation, and we will take care of them."
Rabbi Amar, who is responsible for official state-sponsored conversions, is thought to strongly oppose the proposed law. Amar has said that he would resign from this post if the IDF conversion law is passed in its current formulation.
Netanyahu told leaders of Shas that if the disagreement over IDF conversions is not solved by Wednesday, he will vote with the government in favor of the bill.
A Kadima member stated that "Netanyahu has sold out IDF soldiers in order to busy Shas's vote on the state inquiry [of the Carmel fire]. This is a cynical, pathetic move made by a frightened man that understands that the State Comptroller's report could knock him out of the government."
The Kadima source continued, "Netanyahu is trying every trick he can to weasel his way out of responsibility for the catastrophe… and is using the conversion of IDF soldiers as political bargaining chip to save his own personal career."
A compromise was discussed over the weekend, in part through intervention by Netanyahu, according to which Shas would not oppose putting the bill to a preliminary vote in the Knesset on Wednesday.
In exchange, the national conversion bill that Shas supports would be brought to the Knesset in a first vote.
That bill gives authority over conversions to municipal rabbis on the premise that this would simplify the process. But it also grants the Chief Rabbinate sole authority to oversee the process and to authorize rabbis to conduct conversions.
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