Religious parties warn coalition: Keep religious councils Orthodox

JERUSALEM — Knesset members from the Orthodox religious parties said they would bolt the ruling coalition if the government did not draft a law preventing non-Orthodox Jews from being appointed to local religious councils.

The Orthodox lobby said it planned to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week to discuss the matter.

The High Court of Justice recently ordered Interior Minister Eli Suissa of the Shas Party to appoint representatives from the left-wing Meretz movement to the local religious council of Netanya. Meretz has insisted that the representatives be from the Reform movement.

Orthodox parties in other municipalities have also tried to circumvent court-ordered appointments of non-Orthodox representatives to the religious councils, maintaining that the candidates do not meet other criteria.

The local councils have jurisdiction over religious matters.

The move is the latest effort by the Orthodox to consolidate their control over Jewish life in Israel.

During its last Knesset session, the plenum passed a first of three readings of a bill, also submitted under pressure from the religious parties, that would set into law the Orthodox establishment's sole authority over conversions conducted in Israel.

The move came after Conservative and Reform movements appealed to Israel's High Court to allow them to perform conversions in Israel.

The court in turn ruled that the Knesset must draft some law determining who can and cannot perform such lifecycle ceremonies.

Amid a worldwide protest by Conservative and Reform groups of the religious parties' conversion bill, some efforts have been made to iron out a compromise.