Photo Credit: Adina Velman / Knesset Spokesperson's Office
MK Bezalel Smotrich

Earlier this week Israel’s High Court issued a dangerous decision which has the potential to change the very future of the State of Israel, both in its character as the Jewish State as well as regarding how laws and policies are made.

As has been widely reported and analyzed, the decision by the Court establishes that for the first time in Israel’s modern history conversions performed outside of Israel and under Reform and Conservative auspices will be recognized by the State of Israel and those converts will be recognized as Jews in every sense.

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This is a deeply troubling decision because it is a tragic affront to the historic and traditional understanding that every convert who wants to be accepted as Jewish by the state, can only do so following completion of the halachic conversion process.  Embrace of halacha as the guiding standard for how Jewish law is practiced in Israel has been the standard since the State’s creation and is a basic element of the “Status Quo” which guides all aspects of religion and state from Israel since 1948.  While I appreciate that it may not be “politically correct” in 2021 terms, the notion of halacha as the compass which guides issues like conversion is one which is in place to protect the very Jewish identity and future of our nation.

The rationale behind this vision is that in order for Israel to remain the land of the Jewish people and to remain unified for generations into the future, halacha must be the standard that defines how Jewish law operates.  By accepting this standard we know that our grandchildren, great-grandchildren and beyond will be able to marry fellow Jews without needing to look into the family lineage and investigate whether any ancestors might not be halachic Jews.

This High Court decision is deeply problematic because it has created a situation where the highest civil court in the land has decided to enter into a field of adjudication where it simply does not belong.  While the Court has broad powers and influence, it should not have the authority to weigh in on these types of issues that impact on the very identity of the Jewish State.  In proud democracies like Israel there are often bitter debates over fundamental issues of identity but the Court cannot allow itself to impose itself in areas which directly harm that identity.

The reality is that we have been witness to an increasing number of cases where the High Court has imposed its influence on the Knesset and the Government and indeed superseded the will of the people in deciding on issues that affect our national identity and even our national security.  As noted, democracy thrives on debate but there are systems and checks and balances in place for resolving debate.  But we cannot accept a situation where 15 judges are permitted to trample on our Knesset, our Government and on our national sovereignty in ways that repeatedly damage the very Jewish nature of our beloved state.

The legislative answer to this challenge is to pass a national conversion bill that will establish that only the State of Israel’s conversion will be recognized as valid.  Over the past year, we have made considerable progress in moving towards such a law and it just requires the proper time and patience to make it the reality.

Sadly, I am not able to dismiss the possibility that the Court was swayed by political considerations where they see parties on the right that will be perfectly willing to sit in a left-wing government and believes that such a government would be more than willing to embrace these types of harmful decisions.  The Court is more than willing to let 72 years of consensus on this status quo issues to simply fade away because they believe that in a matter of weeks a new government will be in place that will happily turn a blind eye to such a national tragedy.

In order for such a law to pass and in so doing definitively reject this rampant judicial intervention we need to be sure that the next government is built with strong parties from the national religious camp.  The parties that commit unwaveringly to the Jewish identity of the modern State of Israel.  The parties that have the courage to reject populist notions and defend the ideals that are core to our national character and security.

Political leaders who believe that we can put our core principles aside because we are facing a crisis from Corona were reminded with this decision why that is simply an unrealistic and irresponsible strategy.  The High Court and the State Prosecutors are not putting their agenda aside because of the crisis and we must now how to respond.

The issues surrounding this decision are nothing less than the issues which sit at the very heart of who we are as a Jewish nation.  It is simply inconceivable that after 2,000 years of national survival culminating in the miraculous return to a land of our own, we would allow ourselves to fall victim to a situation where assimilation and disunity will be the roots of our downfall.  That is a scenario which is tragically possible if we continue to allow the Court to impose its will on these areas which it has no legitimate right.

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Bezalel Smotrich is a former Minister of Transportation, a Member of Knesset and head of the Religious Zionists party in Israel.