Conversion deception blamed on Netanyahu

JERUSALEM — Conservative and Reform leaders Monday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the religious parties of pulling the wool over everyone's eyes by insisting non-Orthodox conversions performed abroad are being recognized in Israel.

The non-Orthodox leaders say the Interior Ministry for several months has refused to register as Jews people who studied under Reform or Conservative auspices here and were later converted by non-Orthodox rabbinical courts abroad.

"In practice, it is not true," Rabbi Ehud Bandel, president of the Conservative movement in Israel, said of the assurances given to diaspora Jewry that non-Orthodox conversions are being recognized.

The assurances have been given in connection with the conversion bill, which would specify that only the Chief Rabbinate would have the power to rule on the validity of conversions to Judaism in Israel. Netanyahu, and the religious parties, insist the legislation would not "disenfranchise" the Conservative and Reform movements abroad.

"I can understand Netanyahu has an interest in saying that the status quo is that those converted abroad are registered as Jews, but it is simply not true," said Rabbi Uri Regev, head of the Israel Religious Action Center, a Reform entity.

Regev said that for years, the Interior Ministry registered as Jews those who had studied under Conservative or Reform auspices and then went abroad for the actual conversion. Halachically, he added, the actual conversion is a very short event. Now, he said, the Interior Ministry won't even extend the visas of non-Jews studying at non-Orthodox conversion institutes.

Regev noted that although the High Court has ruled that those converted abroad must be registered as Jews, the IRAC now has two relevant petitions before the High Court.

One is on behalf of two infants who were adopted by Israeli couples and converted by a Liberal rabbinical court in London before being brought to Israel. The other is on behalf of a woman who lived and studied in Israel and was then converted by the same rabbinical court.

In both cases, the Interior Ministry refused to register the converts as Jews, he said.

Regev also condemned as outright lies the recurrent accusations by members of the religious establishment that the Reform movement in Israel carried out "conversions by fax" or any other form of fictitious conversion. On the contrary, he said, all of the charges of quickie conversions, fraudulent conversion, or corruption in the conversion process have related to Orthodox conversions.