New bill would make conversion insufficient for Israeli citizenship

March 09, 2010 Adar 23, 5770

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
(Daniel Bar On)

New bill would make conversion insufficient for Israeli citizenship
By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz Correspondent
Tags: Israel conversion

Proposed legislation that would broaden the authority of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel on matters of conversion would also alter the Law of Return, distinguishing between that law and the Citizenship Law.

The bill, put forth by MK David Rotem of Yisrael Beiteinu, is the result of negotiations he held with both Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and the ultra-Orthodox Shas party. According to this legislation, conversion – even if done in Israel – will be insufficient basis for requesting Israeli citizenship.

The bill proposes that the Law of Return only be applicable to Jews or their offspring, and not to non-Jews who opted to convert – even if the conversion follows Orthodox procedure in line with state religious courts in Israel.

The proposed legislation will be brought before the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, and represents the manifestation of one of Yisrael Beiteinu’s electoral promises to its constituency, namely to improve the status of those considered non-Jews according to halakha (Jewish religious law).

However human rights organizations maintain that the bill would hurt the rights of converts by broadening the power of the Chief Rabbinate on this issue.

For years, Orthodox conversions in Israel have been carried out almost exclusively by special religious courts for conversion, headed by Rabbi Haim Druckman. The courts that are controlled by the Chief Rabbinate have avoided carrying out conversions.

The conversion courts have experienced a crisis in recent years, in part due to administrative problems and also as a result of Chief Rabbinate rulings that considered thousands of conversions void.

The bill would authorize rabbis that have been appointed by the Chief Rabbinate to cities to carry out conversions there, which is expected to ease the process. According to the proposal, the city rabbis would be able to carry out conversions through the use of a panel of three qualified rabbis, and would also be able to register marriages for those who have converted.

If the bill passes into law, it will effect the law on the chief rabbinate as well as the Citizenship Law. The latter will be amended to allow citizenship to be given not to those who convert or to those “who were not eligible to become an immigrant prior to their entry to Israel.”

Rabbi Shaul Farber of the Itim Institute said “We are shocked by this law. Jewish tradition has always considered converts fully part of the fate of the Jewish people. It is hard to accept a situation in which a person who underwent state-sponsored conversion in Israel will be considered a second class Jew and will not be entitled to immigrate.”

The Movement for Progressive Judaism described the bill as a “coup meant to bypass the Supreme Court over the issue of who is a Jew,” because it denies converts the right to become Israeli citizens.


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