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You will recall that during the spring and summer we wrote to you on several occasions concerning the conversion bill authored by MK David Rotem. The response from American Jewry was overwhelming. We have been told Prime Minister Netanyahu received 60,000 emails, and we know that about 27,000 were sent through our website alone.
Substantially as a result of your efforts, a legislative moratorium was declared, lasting through December 31, 2010. At the same time, Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Jewish Agency, was charged with the task of working with the parties to craft a compromise. Notwithstanding hard work and dedication on the part of Natan Sharansky, we are not close to any compromise.
With the moratorium coming to an end, there have been multiple credible reports from Israel that a deal is being struck that would include passage of the very conversion bill we fought so hard to derail. This would be the "carrot" for the ultra-Orthodox Shas party agreeing not to leave the governing coalition and acquiescing in the passage of another bill relating to IDF conversions, a bill the Masorti movement supports. Leaders of the Jewish Federations of North America have written to Prime Minister Netanyahu expressing concern. A joint letter of concern from the organizations of both the Conservative/Masorti and Reform movements has also been sent to Prime Minister Netanyahu. A copy of that letter can be found below.
As background before you read the letter, please first read the 8 points listed below.
We are not, at this juncture, asking you to do anything beyond becoming educated about what is taking place in Israel, and we hope no further action on your part will be necessary. But if matters move in a direction we consider unacceptable and we do need your help again, we want you to have this information and be prepared to quickly respond to a call to action.
David H. Lissy
Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer
Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel
1) MK David Rotem introduced a bill (Rotem I) to give authority de jure in Israel on all conversion matters to the Chief Rabbis. In July, that bill received Knesset committee approval.
2) The Jewish Federations of North America/ Reform/Conservative Movements together strongly opposed this legislation in form and substance.
3) Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed to a legislative moratorium on this subject until December 31, 2010.
4) Conversions performed in the Israel Defense Forces have been challenged due to internal Israeli considerations involving the Chief Rabbinate.
5) MK Rotem introduced to the Knesset a second bill (Rotem II) providing that conversions done under the auspices of the IDF must be accepted in Israel and that the Chief Rabbis would not have authority over these conversions. We support this bill on its merits because it is good for the IDF and fair and proper for the soldiers of the IDF. This bill (Rotem II) passed its first reading on December 15, 2010 by a vote of 74 to 18. It takes three readings in the Knesset for a bill to become law.
6) There are numerous credible reports of political attempts being made to link the final passage of Rotem II – which the Reform/Conservative/Federation Movements support – to Rotem I, which is the bill so strongly opposed in July by the movements as a threat to Jewish unity. Rotem II clarifies the status of IDF conversions and allows for greater options for conversion in Israel. Rotem I threatens Jewish unity by assigning sole authority for conversions in Israel – and possibly, by extension, around the world – to the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.
7) The Jewish Federations of North America have written to Prime Minister Netanyahu on these matters expressing concern.
8) The Conservative/Masorti and Reform Movements have written a joint letter to the Prime Minister on these matters.
Letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu from the Conservative/Masorti and Reform movements:
Dear Mr. Prime Minister,
We are deeply grateful to you, as we have stated previously, for your position on MK David Rotem's bill on conversion that was introduced this summer. Your willingness to call for a "freeze" on this legislation in order to find a solution acceptable to all sides was welcomed by us and by Jews throughout the world.
We also wish to express our strong support for the current efforts of MK Rotem to maintain conversion opportunities for those who serve in the IDF.
However, we are very concerned by reports that the two Rotem bills are being linked and that support for the first bill will be a condition of passing the second.
We remain strongly opposed, under any and all circumstances, to the original Rotem legislation as it is currently written. The vast majority of American Jews opposed this bill, as do the majority of Jews around the world. In your moving speech at the GA in New Orleans, you expressed your own concerns about the legislation and the need to preserve Jewish unity. Your words, "Any Jew, of any denomination, will always have the right to come home to the Jewish state. Religious pluralism and tolerance will always guide my policy," inspired our communities. Natan Sharansky, at your behest, has done exceptional work in trying to find a just solution, and we are eager to see this work continue.
You have spoken eloquently about the dangers that Israel confronts. Our movements, joining with Jews everywhere, work every day to defend Israel against the threats of a nuclear Iran and the campaign of demonization and delegitimization directed at the Jewish State. We urge you, Mr. Prime Minister, to oppose legislative efforts that will divide us. In these perilous times for the State of Israel and the Jewish people, let us work instead on what unites us.
Union for Reform Judaism
United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism
Central Conference of American Rabbis
The Rabbinical Assembly
Association of Reform Zionist of America
World Union for Progressive Judaism
Israel Masorti Movement
Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism
International Federation of Reform and Progressive Religious Zionists(ARZENU)
World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues(Masorti Olami)
To learn more, please contact: Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel 475 Riverside Drive, Suite 832 New York, NY 10115-0068 (212) 870-2216; 1-877-287-7414 http://www.masorti.org/; email@example.com