Sephardi chief rabbi Shlomo Amar
Sephardi chief rabbi Shlomo Amar Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Sephardi chief rabbi Shlomo Amar on Monday said comments he made one day earlier regarding the controversial conversion bill - which would give sole authority over Israel's conversions to the Chief Rabbinate - were misconstrued and denied urging ultra-Orthodox parties to quit the coalition over the proposed legislation.

Amar told Israel Radio that he was not getting involved in politics, but rather expressing support for the bill from a rabbinic perspective.

Amar on Sunday called on ultra-Orthodox parties to leave the coalition if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not advance the conversion bill proposed by Yisrael Beiteinu MK David Rotem (which is explained in full here).

Last week, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved the draft on conversion reform, a bill that has sparked outrage among Reform and Conservative Jewish communities in Israel and abroad.

"I am not a politician and I do not interfere in political parties," Amar said on Monday. "But if I am asked my opinion, I will answer."

Amar went on to say that Netanyahu understands the conversion bill is essential, but said the premier is "surrendering to the threats from people who want to change what exists in the country."

In a radio interview, Amar accused the Reform Movement of exploiting Israel’s sensitive political situation to pressure Netanyahu, who needs to maintain close ties with U.S. Jews, into opposing the bill.

"The Reform Jews are using the political situation to blackmail the prime minister. They sit there and they want to dictate our lives," he told Kol Barama radio.

Netanyahu on Sunday said he opposes the bill and will urge his Likud party to vote against it.

"The bill could tear apart the Jewish people," Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. "We will make the effort to stop the bill from reaching the Knesset, but if it is not removed, I will ask the Likud members and members of other parties to vote against it."

Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) rejected Netanyahu's claim Sunday, saying the absence of a conversion law would pose "an enormous spiritual danger to the Jewish people."