Lieberman: No Changing or Postponing IDF Conversion Bill

The Foreign Minister called the Haredi leadership 'hypocritical' for opposing the effort to force municipal clerks to accept conversions performed by IDF rabbis.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman clarified on Tuesday that his party Yisrael Beiteinu will present the IDF conversion bill, which would clarify the status of soldiers that converted to Judaism during their army service, to the Knesset for a preliminary reading on Wednesday.

"We are presenting the law as is. We will not alter a single word, letter or comma, and we will not delay the vote," Lieberman clarified at the beginning of a meeting of the Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset faction, adding, "There is only one real melting pot in Israel, and that is the IDF; if it isn't broken, don't fix it."

Yishai Lieberman Knesset Jan2010 Emil Salman
Emil Salman

The IDF conversion bill aims to prevent municipal marriage clerks who heed stricter ultra-Orthodox rabbis from refusing to register the marriages of people converted in the IDF. Such rabbis have refused to register marriages, citing doubts about the extent the IDF program adheres to Jewish law.

It is estimated that approximately 2500 conversions to Judaism take place every year in the Israel Defense Forces, most of them among immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Shas is opposing the bill because they want the Sephardic chief rabbi to have authority over the conversions.

Although the Shas party opposes the bill, it is supported by a number of parties, including Likud, Labor and Kadima. Hence, even if it is not presented as a government bill, but as a private member's bill – an unlikely scenario at this point, in any case – Yisrael Beiteinu should be able to get it passed.

Shas announced on Monday that if the bill passes a preliminary reading, it will attempt to torpedo it in committees and in its second and third readings. Shas even threatened to 'make life difficult' for Prime Minister Netanyahu, warning they might not feel obligated to vote with the government on other issues.

"This is how the coalition unravels," leading figures in Shas said.

Responding to pressure from Shas and the Haredi leadership, Foreign Minister Lieberman said on Tuesday, "It seems cynical to me that the same people that issue edicts on us don’t' follow them themselves."

"They don't respect the kashrut [religious dietary] authorities, because they have their own authorities, and they won't allow their children to marry religious seminary students who also serve in the army [because they are not religious enough]," Lieberman continued.

Lieberman dismissed the threat of a coalition crisis coming as a result of the bill, promising that "the government will survive until 2013."

The Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar is actively attempting to find a solution that will be acceptable to Yisrael Beiteinu, proposing the establishment of a special committee that would deal with settling the status of IDF conversions. But Yisrael Beiteinu clarified yesterday that they have no intention to halt the legislation.

MK David Rotem of Yisrael Beiteinu, who proposed the bill, said, "From our perspective, it makes no difference if a committee is established, or what conclusions it comes to. Even if it decides to accept IDF conversions, we want it to be anchored in law, so that it can't be changed in the future."

Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov, also of Yisrael Beiteinu, harshly criticized Shas's attempts to torpedo the bill, saying, "We're talking about people's lives here. To politicize this issue is disgraceful."

Chief Rabbi Amar is currently in Mexico, but his representatives reaffirmed that if the bill passes, he will rescind his support for the IDF conversion process, as he told Netanyahu that he would two weeks ago.

In response to Lieberman's comments, Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner said, "The real test for Yisrael Beiteinu is not bringing the bill to a vote, the test is whether it quickly pushes it through and prepares it for its first reading in committee next week."

"In the days to come, we'll see if this is nothing more than a PR stunt intended to put a kosher stamp on the stinking deal between Netanyahu and Shas, in which Netanyahu would condition the law's acceptance on the support of Rabbi Amar, who already announced that he opposes the bill."