Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this week that he would vote in favor of the bill, after deciding to postpone the vote on Sunday. Kadima members accused the prime minister of striking a deal with Shas, which would have Interior Minister Eli Yishai waive his demand to appoint a state commission of inquiry into the Carmel fire disaster.
The bill is expected to pass its first reading despite Shas' objection. During an urgent meeting at Rabbi Yosef's home, the haredi party decided to try to reach an agreement which would see the Chief Rabbinate recognize conversions performed in the army.
Party officials tried not to aggravate the situation, but Knesset Member Yitzhak Vaknin warned that approving the bill would be "the beginning of the end of the Netanyahu government." Other party members said the conversion crisis was only technical and that they were trying to solve it within the Rabbinate rather than with a law which would violate the Rabbinate's authority on conversions.
"Our spiritual leader expressed his deep support for the IDF's soldiers and the need to solve the technical problem in the conversion issue," Shas said in a statement. Rabbi Yosef "asked to let Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar find the technical solution to the problem together with the military chief rabbi."
Shas opposes the bill, which states that conversions performed in the Israel Defense Forces will not require the Chief Rabbinate's approval, viewing it as a violation of the status quo and a decline in the Rabbinate's status.
Party officials accused the Yisrael Beiteinu party of attempting to divide the nation and defame IDF soldiers for political reasons, as the suggested law would create a separate conversion system in the army, which – according to Shas – may turn its graduates into "second class converts".
"Yisrael Beiteinu's attempt to turn IDF soldiers into a tool serving their political needs is a cynical attempt reflecting cheap politics," a Shas official argued. "The people of Israel are united against the attempt to turn a technical problem into a rift that cannot be repaired."
A senior party official pointed a finger at Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. "We won't let Yisrael Beiteinu launch wars on religion and political crises over the conversion." Shas ministers were infuriated over Yisrael Beiteinu's refusal to postpone the vote until after Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar's return to Israel on Wednesday afternoon.
A senior source in Shas said the party was not worried about the bill's first reading, as the Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs which approved it had decided that the next readings would be coordinated with Rabbi Amar.
The same source added that Netanyahu had promised to stop the legislation process if the problem were to be solved in a different manner, for example by having the Rabbinate recognize the conversions.
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