Many Palestinians, foreign workers try to convert

Knesset State Control Committee finds that 50% of requests to convert to Judaism come from foreign workers, Palestinians, infiltrators.

Hezki Baruch ,

Debate on conversion
Debate on conversion
Hezki Ezra

About half of the annual Exceptions Committee requests to officially convert to Judaism, about 200 cases in total, come from foreign workers, illegal Arab infiltrators, Palestinians or illegal immigrants.

This fact was announced during a Knesset State Control Committee meeting on conversions.

According to the law, anyone who is not an Israeli citizen and is not eligible for the Right of Return can only begin the conversion process after receiving permission from the Exceptions Committee. The head of the State Control Committee, MK Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid), said, "Many of those interested in converting encounter a very lengthy process, sometimes for technical reasons. And the Exceptions Committee does not address this.

"The mixture of halachic and government immigration policy concerns is not healthy. The Exceptions Committee must transfer its authority to the Interior Ministry, and instead just provide an estimate of the candidate's honesty," she added.

Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, the head of the conversion system for the Prime Minister's office, explained that applications have the right to appeal against the Exceptions Committee's decision, even two or three times. "The conversion system is designed to convert Israeli citizens. It is not us who give out Israeli citizenship but rather the Interior Ministry.

"The qualifications are honesty and that the applicant is not a foreign worker, an infiltrator, a Palestinian, or an illegal squatter. In 2014 the Exceptions Committee accepted about 50 percent of the requests, and the rest were rejected as foreign workers, infiltrators, illegal squatters and Palestinians."

The lawyer Rina Nesher, representing the Interior Ministry, clarified that the government agreed on the qualifications and that the state comptroller cannot interfere in government policy.

Former Deputy Minister for Religious Services, MK Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan (Jewish Home) called to dismantle the Exceptions Committee, because "in my years-long experience, 90 percent of the complaints about the conversion system relate to 10 percent of the cases treated by the Exceptions Committee."

"This is not a normal situation and it is not reasonable, so we must change it. We must separate the religious conversion process from the issue of receiving citizenship, which is political," he stressed.

Fellow Jewish Home member, MK Bezalel Smotrich, added, "The issue of conversion is complicated and we must find a balance between the desire to ease and support on one hand, and the understanding that it is a deep and serious process on the other. Whoever falls along the way only proves that it is a serious process.

"The Exceptions Committee decides on the issue of receiving citizenship and so it needs the authority of the Interior Ministry," he added, and pointed out the danger of offering conversions without citizenship. "It will open other troubles and will not strengthen the position for the public."

MK Elad Stern (Yesh Atid) also warned that "The Israeli society's needs and difficulties cause more and more people to marry outside of the Chief Rabbinate, and the conduct of the Exceptions Committee forces these people to go abroad."

MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) said, "The issue is a bleeding wound for the Israeli society. The country encourages people to move abroad because it is much easier to convert. The religious judges have the ability to examine the sincerity of the motives and there is no need for the bureaucracy of the Exceptions Committee clerks."