With a coalition as diverse as the current one, disagreements between the various parties are nothing to be surprised at, and the contentious issue of conversions to Judaism was bound to be a focus of attention. On Wednesday, the Yamina party’s Minister of Religious Affairs, Matan Kahana, released his plan to reform the state conversion system – drawing immediate fire from both the right-wing opposition parties and his left-wing coalition partners.
Haredi Knesset members attacked the plan for “encouraging assimilation” – coalition members from the secularist Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu parties, on the other hand, slammed the plan for not going far enough, claiming that the coalition agreements themselves stipulate a more far-reaching reform.
In a three-way conversation held between Matan Kahana, MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid), and Yulia Malinovsky (Yisrael Beytenu), Stern and Malinovsky made it clear that they would not be party to advancing Kahana’s plans. According to an account published by Kan Reshet Bet, the conversation was “not a simple one,” with both Stern and Malinovsky making it clear that they were speaking on behalf of their respective parties, which hold a combined 24 seats – Yamina has just 6.
“It’s simply not going to happen,” Malinovsky told Kahana. “Forget it.”
Kahana responded: “Telling me that it’s ‘not going to happen’ is not the way you expect partners to speak to one another. I am going to advance this legislation and you can do whatever you please.”
The Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu parties, meanwhile, intend to submit their own proposed legislation for reform of the conversion system, bringing it for a preliminary vote in the Knesset as early as next week. They have already indicated that they will demand broad coalition support for their draft bill, as, they say, was stipulated in the coalition agreements.
Central to their objections to Kahana’s proposals is the notion of allowing the Chief Rabbinate to retain a measure of influence over the conversion progress. If Kahana’s bill is voted into law, the Chief Rabbis will be able to rescind the appointment of any conversion court judge they deem to have contravened state guidelines – although they will have to obtain the agreement of a newly appointed “rabbinic committee” in order to do so.
MK Gilad Kariv, chair of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, & Justice Committee, told Reshet Bet that, “It’s totally fine that in a coalition as diverse as this one, we have strong disagreements on certain issues. However, at the end of the day, the coalition agreements are binding, and they stipulate that municipal rabbis can conduct conversions. Personally, I don’t think that we need a new ‘conversion law’ to implement this change and perhaps we would be better off without such a law. I think a government decision on the matter should suffice.”
Kariv added that, “If local rabbis are permitted to conduct conversions but the Chief Rabbinate retains the ability to prevent more lenient rabbis from converting people, then we haven’t achieved anything. If the coalition agreement is not implemented, I don’t see a way forward.”