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The Only Democracy? » Discrimination » Fear makes us hypocrites: Israel’s new conversion law

Fear makes us hypocrites: Israel’s new conversion law

By Jesse Bacon

Israel’s new proposed conversion law provides a nice insight into the state of Israeli politics, 2010. It has drawn outrage, even among my right wing friends who would not ordinarily criticize the Israeli government, or support others right to do so.

“The bill proposes that the Law of Return only be applicable to Jews or their offspring, and not to non-Jews who opted to convert – even if the conversion follows Orthodox procedure in line with state religious courts in Israel.”

This means that converts would not be eligible for Israeli Citizenship automatically, as all Jews are. They would have to go through the much more difficult procedures for non Jews who want to be citizens.

The obvious problem for opponents of the law is that Palestinians who actually lived inside Israel, or their descendants, are already barred from the Law of Return. The Sheikh Jarrah case shows that even Palestinians who stayed in lands now controlled by Israel have no guarantee that their land titles will be honored.The Facebook Group I joined on the issue even calls it the Right of Return, a phrase that usually refers to Palestinians, not Jews.

I think the law is lunacy, but interesting lunacy. It shows that Israel is not one homogeneous bloc, acting perfectly in its own interests. Clearly anyone who cares about it has an obligation to point this out. But we also have an obligation to point out the contradictions and hypocrisies that result when a government is determined to deny full democratic rights to all the people under its rule.

A Jewish Week editorial, which is quite critical of the law, does feel the need to admit that it is the authors of the proposed bill “are genuinely concerned that illegal aliens and even terrorists could attempt to exploit conversion in order to achieve citizenship.” The paranoia of a would-be Jewish terrorist convert, something which has never occurred to my knowledge, is enough to justify the denial of rights to a huge existing population. Usually this paranoia targets Palestinians as a whole, but in this case it targets Jews, even those who convert in Israel. This is the same government who referred to its recent campaign against illegal immigration as “Clean and Tidy.” Clearly this is a society living in fear and making poor decisions. It is also a society that privileges its Jewish citizens unfairly, else why would anyone want to strategically convert to Judaism if there was not something to be gained from it, in this case full citizenship?

In my personal opinion, if Israel were to acknowledge the rights of Palestinian refugees, it go along way to alleviating this sort of fear. By acknowleding that Israeli Jewish culture and Jewish religion are strong, though the current Israeli government is not,  we could all relax a bit and figure out if it makes sense so to have a Law of Return for Jews or not and let all the people who want to live in the country of whatever faith sort it out together.

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JESSE BACON (Philadelphia) is a freelance activist and father. He has a Masters in teaching from Roosevelt University in Chicago. He is an observant progressive Jew, and is trying to be a good ally for Palestinians and all dispossessed peoples, while staying true to the best traditions in Judaism. He visited Israel and Palestine in 1996, 2001, and 2002. He served for three years on the local steering committee of Jewish Voice for Peace-Chicago, and one year on the board of Pursue the Peace in Seattle. Read his posts here.

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