Lieberman: Conversion Laws Eroding non-Orthodox Judaism

Nearly 300,000 immigrants still classified as non-Jews as conversion rates plummet.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called on Monday for a change to laws on conversion to Judaism, which he said had left thousands of Israelis in limbo.

Speaking at a conference on immigrant absorption in Ashdod, Lieberman, who leads the hard-line Yisrael Beiteinu party, urged the state to allow head Rabbis in all Israeli towns to perform conversions.

"It is unacceptable that over 200,000 immigrants are carrying identity cards that give their status as 'no religion'," Lieberman said.

The number of immigrants entering conversion programs has plummeted following a controversial ruling in 2008 by the Rabbinical Court of Appeals, which at a stroke invalidated all conversions performed by the state-run Conversion Administration.

Yisrael Beiteinu, which enjoys strong support from Israel's large population of immigrants from the former Soviet Union - around a quarter of a million of whom are classified as non-Jews or having no religion - now hopes to roll back the changes and ease the process.

"Every town's chief rabbi must have the authority to perform conversions himself," Lieberman told the conference.

"In a generation's time there will be no Jews left in the world outside orthodox Judaism, because of assimilation."

This is not the first time that Lieberman, himself a Russian immigrant, has raised the issue of conversion. An attempt two years ago by Yisrael Beitenu to restore powers to municipal rabbis ran into opposition from religious parties in the government coalition and the rabbinical courts.