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«The Ministers voted for a law on convert to Judaism, thinking that voting for another.» Interview with Rachel Azarias

In recent weeks there were several sharp conflicts on the basis of initiatives ultraorthodoxy parties. In an interview with MP Rachel Azaria («Kulan») shared his attitude to these initiatives.

Talked Gabi Wolfson, a political commentator

In the last days there was a conflict around the law on the indivisibility of Jerusalem. You know the problems of the capital, was a member of the city Council. How do you feel about the bill?

I’m not sure we need a law governing such issues. If ever a settlement is reached, it is unlikely to go beyond the consensus in Jerusalem. Honestly, I don’t think someone will take the liberty to divide the city. This is wrong. I have not seen in my life of the divided city who would be glad of such a fate. A model in which it is possible to put borders, to divide the city into districts and to hide behind a fence, I don’t think it is effective. She looks doubtful especially in a city like Jerusalem. This is the city where the population is mixed, what many people forget or choose to forget.

Then how do you explain the scandal that erupted in the coalition on this issue?

This is an internal policy. Generally, one of the most serious problems of Jerusalem is that everyone loves to talk about love for this city and very few are willing to do for him. Everyone likes to talk about Jerusalem in terms of national, state, and very few people are willing to do something in the name of ordinary life in the city. I prefer to solve problems relevant to everyday life.

In recent weeks we are witnessing increased activity of ultra-Orthodox factions. First, a new crisis in connection with the work on Shabbat, then came the theme giurov and compromise at the Western Wall, later again the theme of public transport on Saturdays. How do you explain this burst of activity «haredim»?

I think that the public life of the ultra-Orthodox sector is experiencing serious disasters, and it pushes the deputies from the ultra-Orthodox parties to change tactics. Previously, they proceeded from the fact that you need to hold on to what is, and crises have arisen only when there was a violation of the status quo. Now we see that the haredim initiate change and are very active. This is due to the processes occurring in ultraradicals media, in the structure of their society, it is possible to reduce the percentage of voting for religious parties. Anyway, it is obvious that these are symptoms of the processes occurring in their segment, but they are reflected on the whole society.

Which of the latest initiatives is the most serious or dramatic?

The most serious seems to me the impact that these initiatives have on our relationship with the Jews of the Diaspora. This brokenness, which we just can’t afford it.

It is around the theme of conversion or the wailing Wall?

This accumulation of critical mass. For quite some time there is tension in relations with Jews of the Diaspora, for a long time they do not hide their dissatisfaction and their criticism of the steps taken by the government. A vivid example of a compromise on the question of the wailing Wall. On this compromise worked for a year and a half. This is a classic case of «painful compromise» – all refused something…

Explain what the essence of this compromise. After a separate area for communal prayer exists today.

Let’s start with the fact that today at the wailing Wall there is full gender separation. Women can’t pray in Tefillin may not read the Torah, then there can not do all the things that made in the reform and conservative communities.

Even at the site allocated for a mixed prayer?

The area that you’re talking about, «ezrat Israel» behind the Mughrabi bridge, was part of the compromise that was worked out several years ago. According to the decision, it should have been put in order, to repair, to develop rules of conduct there. In practice, much of what had to be done, not done. The repair is not done, the site is small, cramped, often simply closed. To get there you must go through the archaeological site. In short, this platform does not have to ensure that it is actively attended. But now that compromise repealed. And explanations, which are today, have nothing to do with reality. The compromise concerns not the wailing Wall or the Central square in front of her. The compromise provided for a lengthening of the wailing Wall. In General, it was a very serious compromise from both sides. Now it is frozen by the Prime Minister.

Pardon me for asking, but what about all this business of the Jews of the Diaspora?

The state of Israel is not a state for the Jews living in Israel. And, by the way, I am very happy. God forbid we be alone, without communication with the foreign Jewry. But the Diaspora wants to be part of what is happening, including at the wailing Wall. For them it is a critical time. Coming 14-15 year old girls and suddenly realize that the way they pray all my life – illegitimate at the wailing Wall. For them it is a very strong shock.

You mean children from reform families?

So they pray their whole life they used to pray in their synagogues, and behold, they find themselves in one of the most sacred of Jewish places, they feel that their form of prayer is unacceptable. It’s like a slap in the face. And I must say that Diaspora Jews are not only our brothers and sisters. They protect us in the fact that neither is the literal sense of the word. Everything that relates to American military assistance, beginning with «aerial caravan» during the Yom Kippur war and ending with the modern «Iron dome,» everything that concerns the cooperation in the field of modern weapons, all to support Israel in the UN and a deep strategic Alliance between the two countries – all the result of very hard work with the representatives of American Jewry. But they want to feel that they are partners. Recent decisions of the government, they do not give such sensations. On the contrary, it repels and alienates.

But it can be much easier, and we are not talking about ties with American Jewry, and about the ongoing struggle of the reformists for the recognition of Israel?

I think that it is impossible to ignore the fact that the leaders of the lobby AIPAC specially came to Israel for a meeting with the Prime Minister. It seems to me that to ignore the international dimension would be a strategic mistake, just sticking her head in the sand. I do not deny that local reformists to take part in this process, but it is not only them. I will give you my personal example: my mother immigrated from the USA, father is from Tunisia. I am very familiar with the Jewish communities of the Diaspora, and this is our capital, and we cannot afford to squander it.

As I understand it, the fate of this compromise will decide the high court.

Now there is a discussion in the high Court, and in the corridors of the Knesset. Many MPs need to reconsider the freezing of a compromise or to make a decision major change. You know, Judaism has always found a platform for coexistence of different directions. Someone is praying according to the custom of Yemenite Jews, some pray according to the custom of the Ashkenazi Jews, some of the Sephardim. Always get along.

Let’s be honest, the reformists and the Orthodox do not pray together.

Visit Jewish communities in the United States, and in many places you’ll see so how do you reconcile the reformist and Orthodox schools like the coexist of the synagogue, mikvah and other elements of Jewish life. It usually occurs in small communities where there is no other choice but to cooperate. The privilege that exists in Israel, where there are so many Jews that everyone can find their own corner, not always exist in communities of the Diaspora.

A bill to convert to Judaism you are also concerned from the point of view of relations with Jews in the Diaspora?

The most problematic point in the issue of conversion lies in the fact that for the first time it is trying to streamline legislation. Still all the issues of conversion were settled through government decisions. This is the most important rule existed since the creation of the state. Moreover, when voting on this bill, Ministers have discovered that the bill is very different from that which was discussed.

That is?

Initially it was said that the bill applies only to foreign workers, that is, those who want to come to Israel, go here «quick conversion» and to all the rights already under the law of return. But it turned out that we are talking about those who have come to Israel under this law, and wanted to convert to Judaism. Can’t be that for immigrants from the former Soviet Union there was only one opportunity to undergo giyur to do this is through the chief Rabbinate. This decision is a dramatic scale. I have a friend who grew up in a family of Gentiles, and only when she grew up and was about to get married, she told me that she is actually Jewish. Her parents were killed by the Germans during the war, and she was sheltered and raised non-Jewish family. Today she’s a grown woman who can’t prove their Jewishness and had to go through a complicated process of conversion. But we cannot allow Israel did not have systems, allowing you to go through this process more smoothly, quietly and kindly.

I still want to go back to an important phrase you said: Ministers did not vote for the law that was presented to them? I understood you correctly?

Yes. They said that we are talking about the bill, which applies only to Eritreans and not for the people who immigrated in accordance with the law of return. In fact, the text of the law implies the termination of activities of organizations such as «Giyur ka-Halacha» and others.

Who introduced the Ministers astray? The head of government?

Not the head of government, and those who presented the bill. The Ministers thought that voting for a law and actually voted for another. That is why it became a requirement to freeze the bill, which is why Rabbi Rosen is one of the founders of the «Giyur ka-Halacha» – resigned from all structures of the «Bayt Yehudi». One thing the bill aimed at preventing mass giurov for foreign workers seeking a loophole to stay in Israel, but quite another thing – an attempt deliberately to complicate the procedure of conversion for new immigrants who came to Israel under the law of return.

The decision to freeze the bill for six months is a timeout or the end of this Saga?

View. I don’t think the bill will pass in its current form, as there is a large group of deputies, including the coalition, which is absolutely not ready to such.

Do you have the feeling that a few of such initiatives on the part of ultraorthodox and the coalition will collapse?

I’m not sure. Ultimately, the coalition has always managed to find compromise solutions and to continue. The bill is frozen for six months, the claim of the reformists in the high court too. God forbid – and I say this as a religious woman, so we managed to find a way that would lead to the correct decision.

In other words, you don’t feel that we are on the verge of collapse of the coalition and early elections?

I’m very careful in such assessments. He loves to talk to Moshe Kahlon, who predicts the date of the election, playing roulette. The situation today is one, tomorrow it is fundamentally different. I refrain from such speculation.

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«The Ministers voted for a law on convert to Judaism, thinking that voting for another.» Interview with Rachel Azarias 03.07.2017

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