The weakness of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and of the crude ties with which he bound his disparate coalition together, have been revealed anew by his convolutions over the issue of military conversions.
On one hand, he is being pressured by Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman to support a bill proposed by MK David Rotem that would ratify all conversions carried out by the Israel Defense Forces, thus bypassing the Chief Rabbinate. On the other hand, he is being threatened by Shas chairman Eli Yishai, who fears for the standing of Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, a protege of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Juggling between them is Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, who is trying to broker a compromise.
But any choice Netanyahu makes, even a compromise, will lay bare his increasingly strained efforts to keep the coalition's fraying bonds from breaking. More than anything, this effort attests to a fundamental flaw in the coalition itself.
Rotem's bill and Shas' stubbornness may seem like opposites, but in reality, both are warped expressions of the same problem. The sole concern of Yisrael Beiteinu's leaders is catering to to potential voters for their party who converted during their military service. The party's conversion initiatives, like its civil marriage initiative, make it clear that it has no interest in breaking the Orthodox monopoly. All it wants is a "special track" for immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are not considered Jews according to halakha.
Shas, for its part, has responded in kind: All it cares about is the standing of "its" rabbis.
Both parties are acting in line with the Orthodox tyranny and contrary to the interests of both the general public and the IDF, which is now helpless against the establishment it had tried to bypass. This tyranny, which has of late reached new heights - "rulings" by racist rabbis against renting or selling homes to Arabs, yeshiva heads encouraging insubordination by soldiers, inflated powers given to rabbinical court judges - distances Israeli society from normalcy and brings the state into conflict with Diaspora Jewry.
The solution does not lie in another bypass or compromise. It would be better to consider replacing the institution of the Chief Rabbinate with municipal or community arrangements, thus bringing the Orthodox tyranny, which undermines Israeli democracy and good governance, to an end.
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