New York, NY. July 20, 2010 … David Rotem of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party has proposed a bill to the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) that would give new authority to the Orthodox Israeli Chief Rabbinate over conversions. It has raised serious concerns among the Conservative and Reform movements in Israel and in the Diaspora that conversions performed by them could be nullified and future ones no longer recognized.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued the following statement:
The Anti-Defamation League supports Prime Minister Netanyahu's politically courageous decision to forcefully oppose the Rotem conversion bill being considered by the Knesset in the interest of maintaining unity among the Jewish people. The approach taken by the Prime Minister is in the best tradition of Jewish communal values and the inclusive and pluralistic ideals of Israeli democracy.
As a Jewish State, decisions regarding conversion do not just affect citizens of Israel, but Jews worldwide. Be it in fact, or in perception, the changes called for in the Rotem Bill have led many Jews in the Diaspora to feel disenfranchised from their historic homeland.
Israel's founding Proclamation of Independence established a Jewish democratic, non-theocratic state which would "... uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of religion, race or sex; (and) guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, education and culture ...".
From the very beginning of Israel's existence as a modern state, the secular political authorities in the Israeli parliament and the secular judiciary have determined how religious law will be exercised over Israeli citizens. Legislation and judicial decisions have delegated authority to the official Orthodox Jewish Rabbinate in Israel over issues of personal status for Israeli Jews such as marriage, divorce and burial.
From time to time since the 1980s, there have been attempts to enact legislation to add the issue of conversion to the exclusive powers of the official Orthodox Rabbinate. In each instance, the issue has been defeated through the legislative process or abandoned by its political proponents. We hope this Knesset will follow that precedent.