Knesset committee approves conversion bill for final plenum readings

A Knesset committee for the second time has approved a bill allowing local rabbis to oversee conversions to Judaism in Israel.

The Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Monday advanced the measure by a vote of 6 to 5. It is scheduled to be returned to the full Knesset for its second and third readings.

However, Israeli media reported last week that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had withdrawn his support for the bill in order to shore up his coalition base and not upset the haredi Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, who he might need to form an alliance in future governments.

After approving the bill in March, the committee was required to vote a second time following the addition of 38 amendments proposed by the opposition, which all were voted down by the committee. The bill, which was sponsored by Elazar Stern of the Hatnua party, already passed one reading in the Knesset this summer.

The Likud and Jewish Home parties oppose the measure, as do the haredi Orthodox parties. The country’s chief rabbis, Rabbi David Lau and Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, also are in opposition.

Under the measure, as many as 30 courts made up of municipal rabbis would be allowed for the purpose of conversion. Currently there are 33 rabbis and four conversion courts that can perform conversions throughout Israel.

“We are pleased that, in the end, the lawmakers were able to see beyond the politics and reach out to potential converts in a positive way,” Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM Jewish Advocacy Center, who was involved in the drafting of the bill and participated in the hearing, told JTA. “Each day, hundreds of individuals who made aliyah as Jews but aren’t recognized as Jews by the Rabbinate are being alienated by the Jewish state.  This bill provides them a small glimmer of light.”

Though the bill is officially out of committee, it is unknown when it will move to the Knesset floor, according to Farber.

Livni taking seven Kadima members for her new party

Seven Kadima members are breaking away to join former party leader Tzipi Livni in her new Hatnuah party.

The move was approved Monday night by the Knesset House Committee.

The defectors will take with them to the new party more than $1 million in public election funding. Kadima, however, has called on the seven to shoulder their share of the party's debt of nearly $10 million.

The Kadima members joining Hatnuah are Meir Sheetrit, Yoel Hasson, Rachel Adatto, Shlomo Molla, Orit Zuaretz, Majali Wahabi and Robert Tiviaev. Former Labor Party chairman Amram Mitzna also is on board and reportedly will be given the No. 2 spot on the party's Knesset list behind Livni, who reportedly is in talks with Maj. Gen. (res.) Elazar Stern and Israeli journalist Yoaz Hendel to join Hatnuah.

Livni announced on Nov. 27 that she would reenter politics at the head of her own party called Hatnua, or The Movement.

She became the Kadima chief in a primary vote in September  2008, then lost the chairmanship to Shaul Mofaz during primaries last March. In May, Livni said she would resign from the Knesset but remain a member of Kadima.