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Orthodox parties in Israel press legislation on religious councils

JERUSALEM, May 8 (JTA) — Knesset members from the Orthodox religious political parties said they would leave the coalition if the government did not initiate legislation to prevent representatives from non-Orthodox streams of Judaism from being appointed to local religious councils. The Orthodox lobby said it planned to meet with the prime minister next week to discuss the matter. The High Court of Justice recently ordered Interior Minister Eli Suissa of the Shas Party to appoint representatives from the left-wing Meretz movement to the local religious council of Netanya. Meretz has insisted that the representatives be from the Reform movement. Orthodox parties in other municipalities have also tried to circumvent court-ordered appointments of non-Orthodox representatives to the religious councils, maintaining that the candidates do not meet other criteria. The local councils have jurisdiction over religious matters. The move is the latest effort by the Orthodox to consolidate their control over Jewish life in Israel. During its last Knesset session, the plenum passed a first of three readings of a bill, also submitted under pressure from the religious parties, that would set into law the Orthodox establishment’s sole authority over conversions conducted in Israel.