The coalition crisis that erupted with the government's decision to relay the Military Conversion Law to the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee ended Tuesday with each side claiming victory.
Yisrael Beiteinu said it was pleased about the decision to transfer the proposal to the committee, which is headed by the bill's patron, MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ); the committee is expected to prepare the bill quickly for a first reading vote in the Knesset. In contrast, Shas claimed victory on the grounds that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised party chairman Eli Yishai that the Likud will not allow the bill to move ahead, and that the coalition will bury it.
Rotem stated Tuesday that "the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee I head will act to move the law ahead quickly, in order to erase from the heads of IDF converts the stain that somebody put on them."
Meanwhile, a senior Shas figure said that "as far as we are concerned, Netanyahu has made clear that this is a virtual law whose appearance will be confined to headlines and the Internet. Apparently, that is all that Yisrael Beiteinu is trying to attain."
According to the Shas official, Netanyahu explained in a night telephone call to Yishai that he believes a technical solution will be found to allow Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who is in charge of conversion matters, to recognize IDF conversions. Should such an arrangement be found, there will be no need for legislation of a conversion bill and it will not be brought for a first reading.
Yisrael Beiteinu sources made clear Tuesday night that they will not be satisfied with a technical arrangement, and they intend to persist with legislating the conversion bill.
The dispute about IDF conversions derives from a ruling reached by Rabbi Amar in the past holding that army rabbis who signed conversion certificates were never certified as having the authority to do so by the Chief Rabbinate. That ruling puts past army conversions in dispute.
By an 11 to 3 vote, the Knesset House Committee decided Tuesday in favor of Yisrael Beiteinu's request that the bill be brought to the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. Earlier, Yisrael Beiteinu had threatened Netanyahu that it would not support the state budget in a vote in the Knesset on Wednesday.
A high-ranking Likud MK on Tuesday attacked Yisrael Beiteinu chairman, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, accusing him of resorting to "ugly extortion of the government, a moment before the budget's authorization. Lieberman is adopting the dirty methods used by the ultra-Orthodox in the past; and on the eve of the vote on the state budget, he acted coercively to secure political dividends from Netanyahu."
House Committee chairman, MK Yariv Levin (Likud ), related on Tuesday to the storm that has erupted over the legislation of the bill, saying: "I allowed two weeks for a compromise to be reached, but this period was not utilized. When arms are twisted, everyone loses. Unfortunately, the window of opportunity was not seized and nothing moved forward. I call on Rabbi Amar to prevent the social fracture that is at our doorstep. A genuine decision has to be reached."
The United Torah Judaism party called efforts to proceed with the conversion bill's legislation a blatant violation of the coalition agreement with it. MK Moshe Gafni said: "When did the prime minister tell me that this law would be put to a vote? Last evening, after I brought the budget and arrangements bill to the Knesset .. The prime minister told me only after I dealt with the budget ... he should have told me one or two months ago."
Gafni explained: "Clearly, you don't bring controversial issues to the Knesset House Committee a day before the budget is voted on. Everyone will say that the prime minister made the following calculation of fear: 15 Haredi MKs against 15 Yisrael Beiteinu MKs, and Lieberman won. When you force two equal groups into conflict and put them to a test, who will win? Now I have to decide whether I should be a dishrag or whether I should be strong, like Lieberman. I can't forfeit my pride."
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