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JFNA urges PM Netanyahu and others to halt conversion bill

The Jewish Federations of North America, with the Jewish Agency and other partners, are leading a concerted and high-profile advocacy campaign to stop a bill in the Knesset that could prevent some Diaspora Jews from gaining automatic Israeli citizenship as immigrants.

These efforts are the latest phase of an initiative that began this winter, when a Knesset member proposed revising the Law of Return. Though the change was initially aimed at giving local Israeli rabbis greater authority, it carried the potential effect of threatening to delegitimize those who converted to Judaism through the Conservative and Reform movements and preclude conferring citizenship under the Law of Return to those who did not qualify for such status on prior visits.

This Sunday, the Knesset member, David Rotem of the Yisrael Beitenu Party, advanced a newer version with stronger language giving the Orthodox-run Chief Rabbinate full control over conversions in Israel and urging that any convert “accepts the yoke of mitzvot according to halacha.”

The Knesset Law Committee on Sunday approved the bill on first reading, sending it to the full Knesset plenum, where it would require three readings and approval before becoming law.

On Sunday, The Jewish Federations of North America’s President and CEO Jerry Silverman, Senior Vice President Rebecca Caspi, and JAFI Chair Natan Sharansky, along with representatives of the liberal religious streams, began a major advocacy campaign to prevent the measure from advancing. JFNA is also urging Federations to appeal to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the issue (see below).

This advocacy involves daily strategy meetings, attending the Knesset committee session, meeting with Knesset members including Rotem and speaking out publicly through Israeli and international media.

In addition, Silverman and JFNA Chair Kathy Manning, along with the JFNA Coordinating Council of professional and lay leaders, have sent Prime Minister Netanyahu two strongly worded letters urging him and members of his Likud Party to speak out publicly against the proposal.

Until now the prime minister has not done so, though he did reportedly tell The Jerusalem Post he thought the bill would not pass.

On Tuesday, Silverman, Caspi and the 125 members of the JFNA Campaign Chairs & Directors Mission now visiting Israel also met with Israel’s President, Shimon Peres, about this important issue. Peres called for greater dialogue on the proposed bill so that discussions embrace both Diaspora and Israeli Jews (click here for JFNA’s briefing with his remarks).

JFNA is also leading an e-mail effort among Federations and their partners urging Prime Minister Netanyahu to oppose the bill. To read more background on the conversion bill and to send Netanyahu a prepared letter (or edit the letter before sending), click here.

JFNA will continue to keep Federations informed about the conversion proposal as developments occur.

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