Non-Orthodox movements launch conversion campaign
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(photo credit: Hilary Leila Krieger [file])
IRAC files petition to HCJ on behalf of seven converts requesting Israeli citizenship.
The Progressive (Reform) movement on Tuesday launched the final campaign of its 20-year legal war to force the government into recognizing non-Jews converted in Israel by Reform and Conservative rabbis as Jewish. On Tuesday, the movement's social action branch, the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), filed High Court petitions to order the Interior Ministry to grant Israeli citizenship according to the Law of Return to seven people living in Israel who were converted here by Reform and Conservative rabbis. The seven petitioners include Carlos Kamchu from Columbia, Allan Goodrich from the United States, Natalia Dahan from Russia, Andrea Federmutz from Austria, Valencia Adelcisa from Columbia, Grenville Adams from the United States and Anika da Zuter from Belgium. All the petitioners live in Israel, participated in conversion courses provided by the Reform or Conservative movements, were converted by rabbis belonging to one of the two movements and are asking for Israeli citizenship in accordance with the Law of Return. Up until now, the Ministry of Interior has refused to recognize conversions conducted in Israel by Reform or Conservative rabbis. Over the years, it has also fought against each encroachment by the non-Orthodox movements into what was once a complete Orthodox monopoly on conversions. Since 1989, the state has lost one battle after another in an incremental struggle by the Reform and Conservative movements to gain official recognition of their right to convert. The struggle first began in 1989, when the government was forced to register an American woman who had converted to Judaism in a Reform ceremony in the United States. The woman immigrated to Israel, where she asked to be registered as Jewish and to immediately be granted Israeli citizenship. In another petition in 1995, the High Court rejected the state's argument that the Chief Rabbinate was the only body entitled to conduct conversions in Israel. The court's decision led to two failed attempts to change the law and reach a compromise between the Orthodox establishment, the Jewish Diaspora community and the Reform and Conservative movements. After these efforts failed, the court battle resumed. In 2002, the High Court ruled that non-Jews who enjoyed official Israeli residency status and were therefore listed in the Population Registry could change the nationality entry in the Population Registry and their identity cards to Jewish. Finally, on March 31, 2005, the High Court ruled that non-Jewish residents of Israel who studied for their conversions in Reform and Conservative classes in Israel but were converted by rabbis of the movements living abroad, must be recognized as Jewish and granted automatic Israeli citizenship in accordance with the Law of Return. The Reform and Conservative movements believe that after all these court victories over the years, the time is ripe for the final showdown regarding the right of Israeli Reform and Conservative rabbis to convert non-Jewish Israeli residents so that they will be recognized as Jews and granted Israeli citizenship. "Despite the repeated decisions by the High Court of Justice, the state continues to refuse to recognize that the time of the Orthodox monopoly in the sphere of conversion must end," said IRAC attorney Nichole Maor. "The time has come for Israel to respect the principle of the freedom of religion and conscience of its citizens and residents and the pluralistic reality of the Jewish people in our times."