A harsh exchange of words took place at the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee session on Monday, which addressed the conversion reform bill being spearheaded by Yisrael Beiteinu.
The committee's chairman, MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu) expressed his deep conviction in the law's importance: "When I reach the world of truth, after I pass this bill, I will brag about it and will be granted access to paradise. Whoever blocks it – I don't know what he will receive."
In addition to heading the committee, Rotem is also the one who proposed the bill, which includes a controversial clause authorizing municipal rabbis to approve conversions, and has been working relentlessly to have the bill approved.
In response to Rotem's comments, MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) shouted at him: "You are uncultured and are ruining the nation, and still you call yourselves the Right in Israel."
Labor MK Eitan Cabel interrupted and told the haredim: "I don't want to be in the next world with you anyway."
The bill is currently in the preparatory stages ahead of its first reading, after being approved in a preliminary reading last July. In any case, there will be no vote on the bill in Monday's meeting, following a last-minute compromise that was reached after United Torah Judaism announced that it would not support the bill in its current formula, which led Shas to withdraw its support of the bill as well.
Talks between the parties, mediated by Attorney Yaakov Weinrot, continued on the backdrop of the session.
'Even among horse dealers there are talks' (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
'Rabbis' arms were twisted'
Rotem spoke harshly against those who oppose the bill and their rabbis: "It seems that United Torah Judaism is the largest party in Knesset. It is known that Rabbi Amar has already signed the agreement and Rabbi Ovadia has welcomed it. They did not believe there were any problems, but it seems there are other rabbis in Israel whose arms have been twisted."
Addressing the compromise that has been reached, he insisted that the bill will be approved: "If I had a majority to pass it, believe me it would have passed already, but I am not willing to risk having the bill toppled in the first reading.
"I announced that I am willing to push forward and bring the bill to a vote, but now I have been asked to give in, in an attempt to reach an agreement, with Attorney Weinrot trying to reach a compromise between the parties."
He explained why the vote was delayed: "We cannot bring forward one of the most important matters to us in haste. Dramatic changes have been made."
The Yisrael Beiteinu representative received unexpected support from members of the Labor and Kadima parties. "It's about time we stop behaving like Iran, with five MKs twisting the entire State's arm," said MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima), "You are not alone to declare a monopoly and make our decisions for us."
Commotion in the committee (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
MK Cabel stressed that his party also supports the bill: "It is difficult for me to say a good word about your actions," he told Rotem, 'But the Labor Party, at least in this matter – gives its support. I certainly hope that you and your party have the courage to complete to move. We are tired of you dribbling around the court and threatening us. If you mean it, then do it."
From the other end of the spectrum, MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) claimed his party was led on: "I am worried about the majority of the Jewish people who rely on halachic conversion. This law will turn out to be misleading and deceptive." Maklev emphasized that his party had no part in the move, even though it had committed to it in the coalitional agreement. "Even among horse dealers there are talks and they try to reach understandings, and if there is no match, it is not suitable."
"What made it to preliminary reading is not what has been brought for first reading now," Maklev stressed. "We talked and we said that even if we accept the concept of more accessible conversion in Israel, there is a way to go about it. We can't have every municipal rabbi opening his own conversion court all over the country. Some rabbis will have more lenient attitudes, and everyone will be able to go and convert there – and without the option of appealing."
Maklev then told Rotem that he was "uprooting the religion of Israel."
Civil marriage to be discussed Tuesday
It should be noted that in the previous session on the matter, which took place in September, MK Gafni said that "the gaps can be bridged". However, sources from the United Torah Judaism on Sunday expressed a different opinion, and one source said there is no way the party will support the bill in its current form.
"Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu have held talks in recent weeks on the matter of civil marriage and conversion, and reached a deal, ousting United Torah Judaism from the issue," the source said. "Things that are against the coalition agreement were agreed upon; there are a lot of problems."
During the Shas-Yisrael Beiteinu talks, Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar said that the deal was acceptable, but after being contacted by various elements, including United Torah Judaism sources and Justice Ministry representatives, he decided to withdraw his consent claiming that "there are problems".
Shas sources said that Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman has refused to make any changes to the agreement.
Chances of a coalitional crisis with the haredi parties will be on the agenda on Tuesday as well, when the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee convenes to discuss the civil marriage bill, which is up for second and third readings and is also being pushed forward by Yisrael Beiteinu despite the ultra-Orthodox parties' objection.
A Yisrael Beiteinu source said on Sunday: "For us this will happen under any circumstances, especially since Lieberman gave his word that the laws will be advanced. His word is his word, and the conversion and civil marriage issues are critical to Yisrael Beiteinu."