Shas Woos Arab Legislators to Vote for Conversion Bill

The fervently Orthodox Shas Party has been wooing Arab members of the Israeli Knesset to vote for a controversial conversion bill, according to an Israeli newspaper.

Israeli Arab and Shas sources cited by Ha’aretz on Sunday both confirmed that secret contacts were being held, but that no final understanding had been reached.

The Arab sources said that in exchange for the Knesset members support for or abstention on the bill, which would codify the Orthodox monopoly over Jewish conversions in Israel, Shas would agree to support legislation that would benefit the Israeli Arab community.

Action on the bill has been postponed as an interdenominational committee seeks a solution that would be acceptable to Judaism’s three main streams. The Conservative and Reform movements want to win legal recognition for conversions performed by their rabbis in Israel.

But if the committee does not meet its latest deadline of Jan. 31, Shas and other Orthodox parties in the governing coalition may push for passage of the bill — and the 11 Arab votes in the Knesset could become critical.

Ha’aretz said the three Arab Knesset members in the Labor and Meretz factions would likely vote in accordance with their parties’ positions.

Opinions were split within the two Arab-based parties — Hadash and the Arab Democratic Party-United Arab List.

Hadash Knesset member Hashem Mahameed said he would support the bill. “If passage of the law deepens the rift between American Jewry and Israel, and reduces the number of Jews moving here, I would not regret the bill’s approval.”

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