Kristine L Ming

Deal reached to temporarily resolve conversion crisis

A deal has been reached to temporarily resolve the crisis over controversial legislation on Jewish conversion following intense negotiations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the coalition party leaders including those of haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism.

Under the terms of the agreement the state together with the Reform and Masorti (Conservative) movements have agreed to request that the High Court of Justice delay by at least six months a ruling on a petition to grant non-Orthodox converts recognition by the state.

In return, the haredi parties have agreed to suspend their legislation which would have granted the Chief Rabbinate a total monopoly on conversion and would preempt the High Court ruling by denying in law any recognition of Reform and Conservative conversions done in Israel, as well as those of non-state, independent Orthodox rabbinical courts. 

Netanyahu will now appoint a committee to review the issue and present alternative arrangements within six months, and the prime minister has given instructions for legislation on the issue not to be advanced until the committee reports back.

Netanyahu speaks at a cabinet meeting in the Western Wall (credit: GPO)

The haredi leadership strongly objects to state recognition of non-Orthodox conversions, although it should be noted that such converts would still not be able to marry through the Chief Rabbinate.

Because of the threat of recognition for non-Orthodox converts through the High Court they introduced a bill to preemptively circumvent nay such ruling.

This incensed the leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements who argue that the bill would set a precedent giving ever greater control over Jewish status issues in Israel and in the Diaspora to the Chief Rabbinate.

The Yisrael Beytenu party appealed the government decision made on Sunday to approve the bill for passage to the Knesset, which gave the coalition time to come up with alternative arrangements.

Deri and Gafni stormed out of the meeting Friday morning owing to questions regarding what would happen if the High Court decided to rule on the petition regardless of the request to freeze it.

According to the agreement, if the High Court issues a ruling regardless of the request not to “the government will be obligated to its coalition agreements,” meaning the haredi legislation will be advanced.

“Peace within the Jewish people is something very important to me. It is important to me as the Prime Minister of Israel, and personally as a member of the Jewish people,” said Netanyahu following the announcement of the deal.

The prime minister also called on the High Court to grant the request not to rule on the petition, “because it will cool the emotions and create and opening for hope that an agreed-upon arrangement can be reached.”

Gafni also took aim at claims that “Diaspora Jewry” was opposed to the conversion bill and the suspension of the Western Wall agreement, claiming that “have of AIPAC members are religious or haredi” adding that “the time has come to stop terrorizing [Israel] over stopping donations and harm to the State of Israel, as the European Union does.”

Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett welcomed the compromise solution and the extra time to discuss the conversion issue.

“Together we will ensure Israel remains the homeland of the entire Jewish People,” said Bennett.

“Conversation is the key to Jewish unity, and close relations with US Jews are a strategic asset of Israel. Over the past week I spoke with many Israeli and Diaspora leaders, and am pleased to have found common ground. I want to thank Prime Minister Netanyahu and all the parties involved for their part in ending the crisis.”

The Jewish Agency also welcomed the agreement.

“We hope that the task force appointed by the Prime Minister will reach a conclusion that strengthens the unity of the Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora,” the organization said in a statement to the press.

“The Jewish Agency also sincerely hopes that the spirit seen over the last two days will lead to the resolution of the issues surrounding the Western Wall, as provided by the agreement previously reached by all concerned.”

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.

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