A Friday morning emergency meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and the heads of the coalition parties over the conversion law crisis has exploded, according to sources who were part of the meeting.
Apparently, Netanyahu and the coalition leaders were in the middle of discussing the possibility of freezing the conversion law, which prevents private conversions in Israel, awarding the Chief Rabbinate absolute control on the matter, when, at one point, Netanyahu instructed one of his advisors to draft a freeze on the law in its current, pro-Haredi form, essentially to appease non-Orthodox Jewish organizations in the United States. An argument ensued between the PM and the heads of Haredi Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) and MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ).
Deri was furious at Netanyahu’s request, and told the PM, while walking out of the room: “I know what you’re doing to me and I will not let you do it.” MK Gafni followed him immediately, saying that Deri was upset that Jewish organizations in the United States could now present Netanyahu’s decision as a victory over the Haredim.
A source in the meeting told Ha’aretz that Netanyahu’s proposal was acceptable to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, postponing the newest version of the Conversion Law by half a year, in return for the petitions to the High Court against the law being withdrawn by the petitioners.
It would have meant that local Rabbinical courts could continue to dispense their brand of conversions until the matter is taken up again by the legislator. It also, in effect, meant a loss, if only temporary, to the Haredi parties in government.
Minister Naftali Bennett, the only non-Haredi Orthodox party leader in the meeting, whose constituency, most prominently the Tzohar National-Religious rabbinical organization, is the biggest victim on the ground of the pro-Haredi new law, attacked the Prime Minister, saying: “Why did you do this with a grab?” Bennett stabbed the PM a second time, reminding him of his refusal to deal squarely with the Hamas terror tunnels – when Bennett, as he has been advertising for several years now, saved the day.
Sources in the meeting suggested Deri and Gafni had engaged in political theater when they stormed out of the meeting, but political reality remains as it had been described by Netanyahu to the three top-level emissaries from AIPAC he saw Thursday night: the PM still has to choose between a conversion law that pleases Diaspora Jewry or continuing to have a government.