Despite Rift With U.S. Jews Over Kotel, Israeli Ministers Will Discuss Controversial Conversion Bill

The bill would give the ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate a monopoly on conversions in Israel

A candidate for conversion sits before a special conversion court in Jerusalem.
Haaretz

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation is set to discuss the controversial conversion bill on Sunday, despite the firestorm of protest in the American Jewish community sparked by the legislation and by last week’s decision to suspend planning an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall.

The ministers are to discuss an objection submitted by Yisrael Beiteinu to the bill, which was designed to circumvent a High Court ruling and prohibit private conversions. If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had acted to postpone discussion of the objection, passing of the law could be delayed.

Last Sunday the entire ministerial committee voted for the bill, except the representative of Yisrael Beiteinu, Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver.

Yisrael Beiteinu confirmed that the objection to the bill would be discussed by the ministerial committee and not by the full government due to a decision by the cabinet secretary. If the objection had been made to the full government, the law would have been held back until the prime minister decided to bring it to a vote before the entire government.

A senior Israeli official said that the visit to Israel by leaders of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, with whom Netanyahu met Thursday, had been decided on at the last minute following the crisis between the Israeli government and the American Jewish community. A number of senior figures in American Jewish organizations and federation officials said this week they will reassess their relationship with the Israeli government in light of the decisions, and that they were even considering the possibility of suspending donations to Israel.

The conversion law is an initiative of the ultra-Orthodox parties to prevent private Orthodox conversions as well as to block future recognition of Conservative and Reform conversions. It would enshrine in legislation the government conversion system, which was established by government decisions, and would mean, as the bill states, that “no legal relevance would be accorded to conversion conducted in Israel not by the government conversion system.”