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At a conference earlier this week, ultra-Orthodox rabbis employed by the state's Chief Rabbinate hurled insults at immigrants seeking to convert, calling them "cheaters" motivated solely by self-interest. Now the political system is responding furiously, with MKs demanding public apologies and/or dismissals and even threatening legal action.

"The Chief Rabbinate is marred by racism and deep hatred for the immigrant community," said MK Marina Solodkin (Kadima), who wrote to Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi (Shas) Thursday to demand that the rabbis apologize and threatened legal action if they did not.

Yisrael Beiteinu termed the rabbis' remarks "wild, hallucinatory and utterly baseless," while MK Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi) demanded on Wednesday that the offending rabbis be fired.

The storm erupted over remarks made at an international conference of ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Jerusalem, where numerous speakers attacked both state-run conversion programs and the people they convert. The assault was led by Rabbi Avraham Sherman, head of the Chief Rabbinate's Rabbinical Court of Appeals, who leaped to fame last year when he invalidated all conversions ever performed by a special state-run conversion court.

"There is no logic to telling tens of thousands of non-Jews who grew up on heresy, hatred of religion, liberalism, communism and socialism that suddenly they can undergo a revolution deep in their souls," he told the three-day conference, referring mainly to non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Ashdod's chief rabbi, Yosef Sheinin, said immigrants who sought to convert "should be assumed to be cheaters."

Tzohar, an organization of religious Zionist rabbis, also condemned the remarks, saying it was particularly upset that Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger praised Sherman and expressed support for his views.

"Instead of supporting the efforts of conversion court judges who operate under the Chief Rabbinate's auspices, the chief rabbi caved in to a group of extremist ultra-Orthodox hacks who have made it their goal to sabotage conversion," the group said in a statement.