The inability, or unwillingness, to meet the needs of more than 300,000 immigrants who are not Jewish according to halakha has been a frustrating problem for many years. These immigrants cannot convert even if they want to because they must promise to maintain a religious lifestyle. Then Yisrael Beiteinu went and submitted a conversion bill that faced a wall of political and media opposition.
Did the bill's detractors ask themselves why it was put forth by the party that is most identified with these immigrants? Alternatively, is it possible that this party, whose political sense is the sharpest in Israel, would back a bill that is damaging to its voters?
Since there is no reason to believe that Yisrael Beiteinu or its chairman have changed their position, we must ask what is really behind the opposition to the bill and to the threat - yes, threat - that it will divide the Jewish people. And we must also ask why this threat from Reform and Conservative Judaism has been joined by some who take a positive view of mixed marriage and of the secularization and de-Zionization of Israel, via the High Court of Justice. (It should be noted that the overwhelming majority of Knesset members would not lend a hand to these processes. )
There is more than a little ignorance of the bill's purpose among the Reform and Conservative Jews who are threatening to stop the flow of donations from Jewish communities abroad to Israel, a move that I favor in principle, and to convince the U.S. Congress and the media to pressure Israel not to pass the law, which I consider to be pure chutzpah.
Unsurprisingly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, panicked by the pressure from these movements, has accepted the validity of their empty threat that the law would "divide the Jewish people."
Does Yisrael Beiteinu, which has an interest in bringing into the ranks of the Jewish people every immigrant who so desires, seek to divide the Jewish people? The fact that this party proposed the bill should reassure rather than rile up Reform and Conservative Jews. Is it logical for a party so dependent on the votes of immigrants who are not Jewish in accordance with religious law to be behind a bill that seeks to make the conversion process more difficult?
The Reform and Conservative movements want to obtain official status in Israel, alongside Orthodoxy. I support this. It is this desire that is the true reason for their outcry. But even if the High Court grants their wish, their status will remain unchanged. There are fewer than 100 congregations in Israel that describe themselves as Reform or Conservative, and most are small; compare that to thousands of active and growing Orthodox congregations. Only spiritual influence, not High Court rulings, can fill their ranks - and influence legislation.
The purpose of the Conversion Bill is to increase the number of Jews, and as such it must be supported on principle. It is a strategic goal, a matter of survival for our people, whose ranks are dwindling exponentially. Diaspora Jewry is in an accelerated process of extinction, out of choice, and every action that increases the worldwide Jewish population, whether legislative or educational, is welcome.
The bill's opponents are concealing the fact that it would not revoke Israel's recognition of Reform and Conservative conversions performed abroad. The only split in the Jewish people is thus the one carried out daily by those who split off from it. The hundreds of thousands of people who have turned away from Judaism did so irrespective of the admitted difficulties of converting in Israel, and this will hold for those who desert in the future, too. They will not even be aware of the existence, assuming it is passed, of the Conversion Law.