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Conversion law threatens us
Op-ed: New conversion law to prompt needless, painful confrontation with Diaspora Jews

It appears that every few years we see the submission of some kind of bill pertaining to Jewish identity that regrettably does not take into account its implications on Diaspora Jews, thereby potentially hurting our brothers abroad. This time around it is Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset Member David Rotem who again submitted a controversial conversion bill.

 

Some months ago, a Rotem bill prompted great commotion among world Jews; as result, a dialogue process was forced upon him and his partners with the participation of Diaspora Jewry representatives and Israeli officials. Although this process is still ongoing, Rotem again submitted his proposal, as if trying to utilize a parliamentary "sneak attack" to get something that he knows cannot be gained through dialogue.

 

The bill faces two main arguments: First, it will create an Orthodox monopoly on conversion in Israel, a phenomenon with grave implications on community life abroad, as the situation will permit the State of Israel to adopt humiliating policy towards other Jewish streams.

 

Secondly, and as a result of the above, Israel would place non-Orthodox Jewry, which bears the burden of most conversions abroad, in a permanent inferior status in Israel, by law, thereby undemocratically annulling the legal achievements of non-Orthodox movements accomplished through great effort over the years.

 

Undermining Jewish unity

 

The two above arguments reinforce charges of wrongful discrimination and gravely undermine the religious freedom of Reform and Conservative Jews. What's especially saddening is that the chance of seeing MK Rotem's bill resolving domestic Israeli problems and making the conversion process more accessible, humane, and dignified is slim.

 

On the other hand, this bill would greatly undermine Jewish unity. The result of granting chief rabbis the responsibility to appoint conversion court officials can be predicted now already – these courts will become Orthodox and restore the problematic policy, thereby hurting world Jewry where most conversions are not Orthodox.

 

And look at the timing! One would think that Israel's status among the nations is firmer than ever and that the peace process brought the hoped-for results. Our ties with Turkey are flourishing and no more ships are making their way to Gaza. Israel's socioeconomic gaps have been minimized, and therefore our ties with Diaspora Jewry aren't that important…even if all of the above was true, we must not hurt the overwhelming majority of Diaspora Jews, insult their religious perceptions, abuse foreigners, and disparage their rabbis.

 

Initiating this confrontation with Diaspora Jews, who constitute our most important support and foreign affairs base in the world, serves no purpose. The relationship with world Jewry cannot be maintained via aggressive parliamentary tricks, but rather, only on the basis of ongoing dialogue.

 

Dr. Edward Retting represents the American Jewish Committee in Israel

 

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