The Knesset approved Wednesday a bill allowing the State to approve IDF conversions without the permission of the Chief Rabbinate. The approval, however, is only preliminary and requires additional votes.
"I appeal to you from the bottom of my heart, please think twice on whether to pass a bill after which I do not know what will follow, where it will lead. Please show responsibility and pull it off the table, allow the chief rabbi of Israel to finish this technical matter," he said. Shas is counting on Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar to find a religious loophole to allow them to support the bill.
Before the vote the coalition decided to allow MKs to vote freely, effectively permitting Shas MKs to oppose the bill without breaking up the government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced support for the bill, leading to predictions that it would pass.
Yishai and Lieberman at Knesset (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu), who proposed the bill, inveighed against the offer to await Amar's return.
"The IDF chief rabbi said he cried when he saw soldiers' conversions being questioned," Rotem said during the heated debate. "Those who want to spit in the faces of soldiers who converted, who have fought for us, will vote against this bill."
He added, "I have nothing against Shas, but I guess they have something against me, against me and against the soldiers."
Lieberman commended the passing of the bill, saying he does not expect "any trouble or shocks in the coalition". He added that his party would continue to promote its values in the Knesset.
"There cannot be just one party achieving goals in the coalition," he said, referring to Shas. Lieberman added that the controversy over the law had nothing to do with religious and secular parties, as Habayit Hayehudi had voted in favor. "This is a profound and serious matter," he said.
But Shas was of a different view, saying Yisrael Beiteinu was "choosing time and time again, out of narrow political concerns and cheap publicity, to split apart the people of Israel".
Following the vote, Minister Yishai said Shas would "consider" leaving the coalition if the legislation is advanced further.
Religious Services Minister Yakov Margi, also of Shas, called the bill "very bad," adding that it calls for two separate conversion mechanisms for soldiers and civilians.
"We cannot allow a situation whereby Jews walk around with second class conversion certificates," Margi said.
"If the PM will not make good on his promise and block this legislation – this would constitute a crossing of red lines and lead to a serious debate on a more severe crisis, even to the point of quitting (the coalition)," he said.
On Wednesday morning party chairmen sparred over the bill, with ultra-Orthodox MKs accusing Yisrael Beiteinu, from which the proposal was issued, of violating the status-quo.
But Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Daniel Hershkowitz announced that his party would vote in favor. "IDF conversions are not second-rate," he explained. "We must prevent the slandering of those converting and converted in the army."
But others, like MK Menachem Eliezer Moses (United Torah Judaism), say conversions must be left in the hands of Amar.
The controversial bill was approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, but Shas filed an appeal against it immediately after. During an overnight meeting the party decided to oppose the bill, arguing that the Chief Rabbinate must hold all the power regarding conversions.
Kobi Nahshoni contributed to this report
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