Netanyahu's Coalition in Crisis Over Conversion Law

Prime minister infuriates Lieberman by agreeing to Shas demand to postpone vote.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acceded yesterday to a request by Shas to postpone a cabinet vote on Shas' objection to a bill on conversions by rabbis in the Israel Defense Forces.

The bill would give state recognition to conversions carried out in the IDF without the involvement of the Chief Rabbinate.

The postponement was a way for Netanyahu to allow Shas leaders to find a way out of the disagreement between Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu that would prevent the bill from coming up for a preliminary reading in the Knesset on Wednesday.

Netanyahu told the cabinet yesterday that Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who is responsible for state-sanctioned conversions, intends to solve the problem.

Netanyahu said he wanted to postpone the vote until Wednesday to see if a solution emerges.

But Netanyahu told Shas' chairman, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, that if no solution is forthcoming, he will vote with the government for the bill.

Sources in Yisrael Beiteinu said they would present the bill to the Knesset Wednesday with or without the government's support and that the bill would pass.

Kadima linked the postponement to Netanyahu's desire to urge Shas not to vote for a state commission of inquiry into the Carmel fire earlier this month.

Yisrael Beiteinu accuses Shas

Yisrael Beiteinu accused Shas of trying to bring conversions in the IDF under Amar's control, saying this would be a breach of the status quo on religious affairs.

"Shas wants to control the army, too," Yisrael Beiteinu's chairman, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, said before the cabinet meeting. "Is a military rabbi a heretic and unversed in Judaism? There will be no compromise, delay or deal."

Lieberman told the cabinet that the Chief Rabbinate's monopoly on conversions had to be broken.

Shas has warned that if the bill passes, it would be a breach of coalition agreements. The ultra-Orthodox party said it would not consider itself bound by coalition discipline.

Over the past few days, Netanyahu has reportedly been trying to reach tacit agreements with Shas; it seems unlikely that Shas' threats will spark a full-blown coalition crisis.

Amar bitterly opposes the bill. He has said he will relinquish responsibility for conversions if the bill is voted into law.

"The bill will be advanced with the votes of those who understand that IDF soldiers cannot be held hostage by politicians," said Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ). "If Likud and its ministers want to oppose the bill, they will prove to Israelis their lack of support for IDF soldiers and new immigrants."

Kadima: PM sold out the soldiers

Kadima said: "Netanyahu has sold IDF soldiers and bought the vote of Shas on a state commission of inquiry." Kadima also said Netanyahu was trying in every possible way to avoid responsibility for the Carmel fire and accountability to the public. It said Netanyahu "is using the conversions of IDF soldiers as currency in his battle for survival."

MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima ) said that "Prime Minister Netanyahu's inability to make a decision continues to cause fires. But this fire will not be put out by another Supertanker found through Google."

Netanyahu spoke over the weekend with Lieberman and Yishai in an attempt to prevent any crisis.