Netanyahu brokers six-month freeze on conversion bill

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An agreement has been reached to put a six-month freeze on a controversial Israeli conversion bill up for a vote in the Knesset.

According to a deal brokered July 22 between Prime MInister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet secretary and several Israeli non-Orthodox religious movements, the bill, proposed by Knesset member David Rotem of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, will be withdrawn for six months while a coalition of non-Orthodox Israeli groups led by Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, submit proposals on how to redraft the bill, Haaretz reported.

The bill, which passed a committee vote last week but still needs three Knesset readings to become law, had drawn significant opposition from Diaspora Jewish groups, including the non-Orthodox American religious movements and the Jewish Federation of North America, as well as the Israeli prime minister and the Jewish Agency. They objected to the bill’s giving ultimate authority over conversions to the Orthodox-dominated Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

“Change in the law on conversions in Israel must be carried out through broad agreement to prevent a split within the Jewish nation,” Netanyahu said, according to Haaretz. “Unity is in the foremost interest of the State of Israel and the Jewish nation, and I intend to defend that principle with determination.”

The Jewish Federations of America welcomed the delay.

“We truly support this process of a dialogue table, which allows the participants time to discuss this important issue appropriately and reach a solution that protects the bonds between Israel and the Diaspora,” the JFNA’s CEO, Jerry Silverman, said in a statement late Thursday. “We are also thrilled that Natan Sharansky will be leading the process.” — jta