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Support for ‘who is a Jew’ Wavering in Likud and Nrp

A slight wavering was discernible in the ultra-Orthodox camp and among some of its Likud supporters Wednesday over the wisdom of pushing the fiercely controversial “Who Is a Jew” amendment to the Law of Return through the Knesset at this time.

Apparently stunned by the ferocity of protests from Diaspora Jewish leaders — including the mainstrenam Orthodox rabbinical organization in the United States — some political leaders here expressed second thoughts about the proposed amendment or, more specifically, its timing.

The change in Israel’s basic immigration law would disqualify persons converted to Judaism by non-Orthodox rabbis from automatic Israeli citizenship.

Although such a change would impact relatively few immigrants directly, its symbolic denigration of all non-Orthodox trends in Judaism has infuriated Conservative and Reform Jews, who comprise the vast majority of affiliated Jews in the United States and other Diaspora countries.

But the religious die-hards here seem determined to force the amendment through the new Knesset at the earliest opportunity.

Menachem Porush, a veteran Knesset member of the Agudat Yisrael party, said he hoped to see the amendment debated on the 19th of Kislev–Nov. 28 — which is a festival day of the Chabad Hasidic movement.

The Chabad movement, headed by Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, who lives in Brooklyn, has effectively taken control of Agudat Yisrael in Israel.

LIKUD DIVIDED OVER ISSUE

Porush spoke to a delegation of American Jewish philanthropic leaders representing the Council of Jewish Federations, United Jewish Appeal, United Israel Appeal and UIA-Canada.

They came to Israel on Monday to lobby against the “Who Is a Jew” amendment. The Americans, who returned to New York Wednesday afternoon, made little headway with Premier Yitzhak Shamir. He told them Tuesday that their concerns are exaggerated.

Shamir promised the ultra-Orthodox parties swift passage of the amendment in return for their participation in a Likud-led coalition government.

But Likud is clearly divided over the issue. Likud Cabinet Minister Moshe Katsav tried to convince the Americans that the amendment would help stem the tide of assimilation through inter-marriage. Katsav believes intermarriage will destroy Diaspora Jewry in a few decades.

But not all of his party colleagues take such an apocalyptic view. Sarah Doron, the only woman in Likud’s 40-member Knesset faction, told the American visitors she would oppose the amendment.

Two members of Likud’s Liberal wing, Yitzhak Modai and Uriel Lynn, also took a negative view of the measure.

Meir Sheetrit, a former Likud Knesset member, now treasurer of the Jewish Agency, has been waging a campaign against the amendment. He has warned in media interviews of the grave financial and political repercussions it would inevitably have on American Jewish support of Israel.

CAN SHAMIR RISK DEFEAT?

Leon (Arye) Dulzin, another former Liberal leader and a former chairman of the World Zionist Organization-Jewish Agency Executive, told the Jerusalem Post in an interview published Wednesday that the amendment would gravely damage Israel’s ties with the Diaspora.

The National Religious Party is also split on the issue. Both the party leader, Professor Avner Shaki, and its secretary-general, Rabbi Yitzhak Levy, have long advocated the “Who Is a Jew” amendment and their support is said to be firm.

NRP moderates, however, are urging the party to back off from its support, echoing the stance of the Religious Council of America. (See related story.)

The second thoughts among some elements of the religious bloc and the lack of solid support in Likud have prompted political observers to wonder whether Shamir can afford to take the measure to the Knesset and risk its defeat.

In that case, he could tell the religious extremists he did his best and hope they would not secede from the government he is trying to form.

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