The latest conversion bill again placed on the public agenda an important and fateful problem, which for some reason encounters the shallowness of inter-party considerations, while having momentous implications for the face of the Jewish people in Israel and abroad, as well as for Israel’s demographic problem.
The demographic issue, including the debate and actions pertaining to it, is lacking for two main reasons:
• Reliance on false and exaggerated date regarding the scope of the Arab population in the western Land of Israel (Yoram Ettinger and others exposed this distortion.) Such figures are severely exaggerated in the aims of accelerating the State of Israel’s withdrawal from the heart of the Land of Israel. This is done while hiding the fact that establishing another Palestinian State, this time west of the Jordan River, and the absorption of refugees there would merely aggravate the demographic problem.
• The portrayal of hundreds of thousands of Olim who are not Jewish according to the Halacha as “non-Jews” or “others”; this further aggravates the demographic balance between Jews and Arabs, even though we are dealing with people with Jewish roots who chose to join us and serve in the IDF.
Entrusting the conversion of these hundreds of thousands of people, who express their wish to join the Jewish people through their actions, in the hands of a Chief Rabbinate that increasingly shuns Zionism and moves closer to the haredi world, as well as the latter’s demand that converts adopt an Orthodox lifestyle, conveys a message to these people of being second-class citizens and third-class Jews.
Our guideline should be to make the conversion process more lenient, simpler, and quicker, rather than introducing obstacles and forcing converts of all people to adopt a lifestyle that is undesirable by most of Israel’s citizens. Such harsh policy pushes them away instead of bringing them closer, outrages them instead of appeasing them, and conveys a sense of distortion: What we see is growing haredi takeover of the conversion apparatus – while haredim dodge IDF service – thereby harming a large population group that contributes to the IDF and to society despite the alienating attitude towards it.
This anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist move by the increasingly Orthodox Chief Rabbinate, which harms those who seek to convert, is not the only such act. The ban imposed by various rabbinical elements on Jewish visits to Temple Mount undermines the State of Israel’s and people of Israel’s needs. In this context, radical religious Jews joined force with radical religious Muslims and are acting together in order to prevent Jews from entering their holiest site: Temple Mount.
Contending with the difficulties presented by anti-Zionist elements, even if they view themselves as the “real Jews,” requires a firm Zionist stance, first and foremost on the prime minister’s part. However, such stance must not comprise incitement that is sometimes afflicted by anti-Semitic characteristics, which shamefully enough are common around here and may emerge in the platforms of some of the next Knesset election candidates.
Simplifying the conversion process must leave it up to the convert to decide which stream of Judaism he or she wishes to join. This principle is important both for the convert and for the quality of ties between the Jewish people in Israel and their brothers in the Diaspora.
The most important challenge currently faced by Jewish society (is the Immigration Absorption Ministry listening?) is the forceful absorption of hundreds of thousands of Jews – if not into Halacha, then into the Jewish people in the broad sense. This challenge befits the title: Conversion Now.
Dr. Ron Breiman is the former chairman of Professors for a Strong Israel