hareidi MKs (illustrative)
hareidi MKs (illustrative)Flash90

A tense debate ensued in the Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee Wednesday, during a hearing over the fate of MK Elazar Stern's (HaTnua) controversial Conversion Bill

During the debate, MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) demanded that the head of Israel's Reform movement, Gilad Kariv, be removed from the Committee hearing for "political extortion".

"This Reform movement person who sits here leaned over and said to [Arab] MK [Jamal] Zahalka, 'if you vote with the hareidi MKs, I will publish an article in the Arab press saying you voted with Jewish Home," Gafni accused. "I request that you remove him from here on grounds of hutzpah, this is extortion and it is very serious." 

"This is a corrupt man who is investing his money [in this]," Gafni continued, accusing Kariv of using funds from the US to influence Israeli government policy. 

MK Ronen Hoffman (Yesh Atid) fired back, telling Gafni "quit this cynical exploitation of your [parliamentary] immunity."

But MK Shuli Muallem-Rafaeli (Jewish Home) jumped in, backing up the claim that Kariv "chose to threaten Zahalka."

Zahalka responded by clarifying that "since the day I joined the Knesset, I have chosen not to vote on laws pertaining to Judaism or conversion."

However, he said he would vote with Gafni in protest of a series of other controversial laws passed by the government, including the so-called Governance Law, which would see the threshold for entering the Knesset raised -  to the detriment of smaller factions such as Zahalka's Arab nationalist Balad party.

"I personally object to the laws that are being enacted in this [package] deal - I oppose the law," he maintained. "However, I support the Reform and Conservative movements."

Other United Torah Judaism MKs also launched criticism at Jewish Home, which is part of the same governing coalition as Stern's party. 

"This is a black day for Judaism, you do not represent Judaism!" MK Uri Maklev (UTJ) stated. "You are a key component in the coalition and MK Elazar Stern's circus."