IDF Conversion Bill Passes Preliminary Reading in Knesset

Bill sponsored by Yisrael Beiteinu to validate all conversions conducted through the military passes despite fierce opposition from ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

A bill to certify the validity of all conversions to Judaism conducted by the Israel Defense Forces was passed Wednesday in a preliminary reading in the Knesset.

The bill, sponsored by Yisrael Beiteinu, passed 75 to 18 despite fierce opposition from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

The bill stirred uproar within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition, pitting Yisrael Beiteinu against Shas.

Several hours prior to the discussion in the Knesset, it was decided that coalition members will be able to vote freely on the bill.

Now the central question remains whether Yisrael Beiteinu will succeed in advancing the controversial bill or if it will be buried by a silent agreement between the Likud and the Haredi factions.

Yishai Lieberman Knesset Jan2010 Emil Salman
Emil Salman

Shas has threatened this week that if the IDF conversion bill passes, the party will no longer see itself committed to the coalition and will act on its own to thwart the bill.

MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu), who proposed the bill, said that "No one has ever doubted the religious validity of the IDF conversions because no one ever before saw a need to turn the conversion issue into an issue of political bribery."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who voted for the bill, said following its approval that conversions in the IDF are carried out successfully. "These soldiers are risking their lives for our security and this is the minimal recognition of gratitude that they deserve," he said.

Following the vote, Lieberman said "It is clear that there is a difference between the approaches of Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas. Everyone needs to live with each other."

"It cannot be that only one party will be advancing bills and be preventing another party's achievements," said Lieberman.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman made it clear on Wednesday that his Yisrael Beiteinu party is determined to legislate the bill, which was drafted by MK David Rotem. "We are advancing the law exactly as it is written. We won't change a word or a comma, and we won't postpone the vote," declared Lieberman at a Yisrael Beiteinu party meeting at the Knesset.

"Israel has one real melting pot, and that is the IDF, and if it isn't broken, don't fix it," he added.

Referring to pressure applied by Shas and the ultra-Orthodox leadership, Lieberman stated "it seems cynical that the same people in the rabbinical council dictate rules to us that they themselves do not accept. They don't allow their children to marry students from Hesder yeshivas."

Denying that legislation of the controversial proposal could cause a coalition crisis, Lieberman vowed that the "government will survive until 2013."