(The following is an open letter by the president of the Union for Reform Judaism and the executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly of rabbis to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu has since said that the bill in question would not be brought to the Knesset for a final vote. The bill’s chief sponsor, MK David Rotem, said he would now support a modified version of the bill.)
We were dismayed to learn of the decision by Israeli MK David Rotem to put forward a version of the Conversion Law to be presented to the Law, Constitution and Justice Committee [of the Knesset]. MK Rotem’s actions are contrary to the assurances we received in meetings with him and with others over the last several months.
We have been involved in regular and constructive conversations with various ministers and members of Knesset on this issue. Working together with the many Diaspora organizations and with representatives of the Jewish Federations of North America, we were encouraged by your request to Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky to resolve this matter by finding a formula acceptable to all parties.
For this reason, we are deeply disappointed to hear that the bill will now be presented in a new and even more problematic format. These new developments have transpired without any input from Mr. Sharansky or Diaspora communities. All of the discussions, understandings and efforts in which we have been engaged appear to have disappeared overnight.
From the very beginning, Reform and Conservative leaders in Israel and the Diaspora have shared our concerns on the impact of this bill on the conversion process. Those portions of the bill that give responsibility for the process of conversion to the Chief Rabbinate constitute a dramatic change in the status quo, are an affront to millions of Jews in Israel and the Diaspora, and are dangerous on every level to the principles of Klal Yisrael.
In addition, we strongly oppose those portions of the bill that would preclude conferring Citizenship Status on anyone who did not qualify for such status on a prior visit. This provision is not in keeping with the spirit and letter of a law meant to encourage the growth of our community and welcoming with open arms those that wish to join and support our people and our land. The concerns noted above are shared by a powerful majority of Jews worldwide.
The time for action is now and we call on you to act decisively to prevent the introduction of this bill.
Rabbis Eric H. Yoffie and Julie Schonfeld,
You are correct to suggest that we should not be unduly relieved at the outwardly cordial Obama-Netanyahu meeting this week (“Obama-Netanyahu meeting looks good, but what did they talk about?” July 8). The truth is that both men had their own reasons for putting the best face on their relationship.
Prime Minister Netanyahu will suffer loss of support at home if Israelis believe relations with America have deteriorated. And President Obama is worried that pro-Israel Jews and Christians will punish the Democrats in the November congressional elections if the actually well-grounded image of his hostility to Israel persists: recent polls show almost 70 percent of American Jews support criticizing President Obama’s relentless pressure on Israel.
The truth is the Obama administration has criticized Israel relentlessly and even condemned it merely for announcing a building program for Jewish homes in eastern Jerusalem that violated no U.S.-Israeli agreement. Conversely, the Palestinian Authority’s honoring terrorists, such as Dalal Mughrabi and Munich massacre mastermind Mohammad Daoud Oudeh, are rewarded by increases rather than cuts in American aid. The latest increase — $400 million on top of $900 million already given — was announced by Obama this month.
Only a week before this meeting, Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, who has repeatedly talked up the U.S.-Israeli relationship, was speaking of a “tectonic shift” between the two countries. Senior Israeli officials, both in government and opposition, have told me privately that the pressure being exerted on Israel by Obama remains unprecedented in their experience.
Morton A. Klein
(The author is the national president of the Zionist Organization of America.)