March 8, 2010 Biden in Israel, Coalition Crisis Over Conversions

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A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman

March 9, 2010 Different Takes on Biden Visist, Problems With Conversion Bill

The Biden visit was the center of the news in Israel today. The foreign news and the Israeli news took somewhat different perspectives on the visit. The Israeli news highlighted the perspective that Biden's visit was to show the closeness between Israel and the United States. According to Israeli observers, the goal was to try to overcome the perceived distance President Obama has placed in this relationship. To many Israeli observers Biden is in Israel to persuade Israel not to take military actions against Iran and let the US continue to attempt diplomatic means, however unlikely they are to succeed.

American media looked on Biden's visit as a chance to jump start the peace talks with the Palestinians. Of course Israel’s dysfunctional governoring system managed to undermine any possible public relations advantage from remarks made by Biden during his visit when the Ministry of Interior announced that 1,300 building units had been approved in a Charedi community over the green line in Jerusalem. By all accounts, Prime Minister Netanyahu was as surprised as anyone by this action by Shas Minister of Interior Yishai. Of course the NYT headlines does not go into the nuanaces, but rather sufficed with screams regarding Israel announcing new buildings in the territories. This time you cannot blame the NYT but Shas and the Israeli governing system.

Last night I mentioned that in the discussion of the new conversion bill there was an ambiguous part that was problematic for the Diaspora community. The Conservative movement has begun a campaign against this bill. They quotes the law as saying: "Anyone who entered Israel as a non-Jew and then converted to Judaism—either in Israel or the Diaspora—would not be eligible for citizenship under the Law of Return." While this above clause does involve the Diaspora and the Conservative movement, this bill is really even more problematic in what it means. Though it allows for the conversion of all the immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are recognized under the Law or Return, but are not considered halachic Jews; the bill states that people who are not of Jewish ancestry cannot be allowed to stay in Israel even if they convert. This represents a totally racist view of Judaism. One that is not supported by halacha, nor by any aspect of Jewish history, only the racist views of the Haredi community.

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