Several officials of the Jewish Federations of North America are now in Israel meeting with Knesset members to discuss potential changes to the country’s laws about conversion to Judaism. Some versions of a proposed bill being circulated include a provision that could, in theory, prevent a convert to Judaism, who underwent conversion in Israel or in the Diaspora, from receiving Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, a proposal the federation system has rejected.
The federations give more than $120 million per year to the Jewish Agency for Israel, the majority of which goes to paying for immigration and settlement of new immigrants in Israel.Here is a press release from the JFNA: FEDERATION LEADERS IN KNESSET FOR TALKS ON NEW CONVERSION LAW
March 15, 2010A delegation of leaders representing Diaspora Jewry met today in the Knesset (the Israeli parliament,) with Member of Knesset (MK) David Rotem, the initiator of a controversial new conversion law.The delegation was led by Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) Chair Natan Sharansky and The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Senior Vice President Rebecca Caspi, director of JFNA’s Israel office.MK Rotem, a member of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, has been working to pass a proposal that will allow local municipal rabbis in Israel to perform conversions to Judaism. Some versions of the proposed bill being circulated also include a provision that could, in theory, prevent a convert to Judaism, who underwent conversion in Israel or in the Diaspora, from receiving Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. The Jewish Federations of North America has issued a statement strongly rejecting such a proposal, and has written directly to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the subject. (Click here for details on The Jewish Federations of North America’s response.)At the meeting, MK Rotem expressed his commitment going forward to consult with Diaspora Jewry on any issues involving conversion or the Law of Return. Explaining that no law will be passed before the Knesset’s Passover break, he also assured the group that no future bill will affect the status of conversions outside of Israel. Similarly, Rotem stressed that Prime Minister Netanyahu is aware of the importance of these issues for Jews around the world.According to JAFI Chair Natan Sharansky, "From my conversations with the Prime Minister and the Government Secretary, it is clear that the law that is viewed as problematic by Jews in the Diaspora will not be passed during the current Knesset session which goes into recess on March 21. We have received assurances that we will be consulted in this process so that the views of world Jewry are taken into consideration."Jay Sanderson, President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, who attended the meeting stated: “We were encouraged by the frank and open discussion with MK Rotem. It is clear to us that there is a sincere will on the part of Rotem, and indeed the government, to find ways to improve the situation governing conversions in Israel, without compromising the rights and dreams of Jews of all persuasions.”Also attending the meeting were Richard Sandler, Chairman of the Board, Jewish Federation of Greater LA; Gary Weinstein, President and CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas; Stanley Arthur Rabin, past President and senior lay leader, Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and Barry Rosenberg, Executive Vice President, Jewish Federation of St. Louis.