The Prime Minister's Office announced Thursday evening that a compromise agreement has been reached by which the Knesset vote on the conversion bill
will be delayed by six months while the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism and the Masorti Movement will suspend their High Court petitions against the proposal.
The conversion bill has been one of the sources of tension between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
and Yisrael Beiteinu
Chairman Avigdor Lieberman,
whose fellow party member MK David Rotem initiated the bill despite staunch opposition from Diaspora Jewry, who made every effort to thwart the legislation.
During the week Netanyahu made it clear that he has no intention
of letting the bill pass into law, mainly due to pressure from Conservative and Reform Jews in the US. The premier said the bill would "create a rift among the Jewish people."
The bill's controversial third clause states that anyone who “entered” Israel as a non-Jew (and did not have a father, grandparents or spouse who was Jewish and therefore was not eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return) and converted to Judaism at some later date, whether in Israel or abroad, would not be eligible for automatic citizenship.
During the six-month moratorium, a task force headed by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky will seek ways to pass the legislation to the satisfaction of all sides involved.
Netanyahu welcomed the development, saying, "Changes to Israel's conversion laws must enjoy broad consensus on order to prevent a rift within the Jewish nation.
"Unity is a primary interest of the State of Israel and the Jewish nation, and I plan on safeguarding this principle with resolve," he said.
The PM's Office said Lieberman agreed to the compromise. Shas
has yet to give its consent to the deal, but the gap between the party's position and the compromise is not believed to be too wide, Netanyahu's aides said.
Jerry Silverman, president of the Jewish Federations of North America, who took part in the talks held last week in regards to the conversion bill, welcomed the government's decision, saying that the agreement stresses the importance of the Jewish people's unity in Israel and the Diaspora.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Israel Religious Action Center welcomed the decision as well. "We hope the proper ways are found to solve the serious conversion crisis in Israel, while recognizing the Jewish people's pluralistic nature," he said.
Kobi Nahshoni contributed to this report