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A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman
March 8, 2010 Biden in Israel, Coalition Crisis Over Conversions
Vice President Biden is visiting Israel today. The visit is clearly an attempt by the Administration to show its support for Israel and give Israel the reassurance of continued American commitment; commitment, which a year of fruitless diplomacy with Iran has undermined. It is a year that Israel has watched deadlines come and go, and now even with the US talking about sanctions, the Europeans who were originally out in front of the US in calling for additional sanctions are talking of watering down those sanction, mostlhy due to Russian, Brazilian and Turkish objections. So it is now very clear that the likelihood of sanctions working seems small. So what can Biden say to Netanyahu: Do not act? Give us a little more time? Or learn to live with a nuclear Iran and its consequences. The only credible card the American administration still has is a promise that if Israel holds off a little longer before attacking it will aid in Israel’s attack.
There is a serious coalition crisis in progress in the Knesset over a new bill that would make conversions in Israel easier and more organized. The new bill would also allow civil marriage between people who are not from any religion. The major changes in the conversion law include allowing every town Rabbi to perform a conversion; making the whole country one district so there can be no questions that conversions are recognized (from any city in any other city), and most importantly, allowing only the chief Rabbi to rescind a conversion. On the negative side, it seems the bill creates additional problems for any conversions done overseas (but I am not sure of those details). The Israel Beiteinu party pushed this bill. With its large Russian following, changing the conversion laws was one of their key elections platforms and demands for Yisrael Beiteinu entering the coalition. Yisrael Beiteinu was successful in getting Shas to agree to the necessary changes and even had the public backing of Rav Ovadia Yosef. However, the Ashkenazi Charedim opposes the bill. They oppose almost any conversions, and went ballistic when they realized the bill was going to pass. They put pressure on Shas to back down, something they have had a long record of successfully doing. At the moment things remain at a stalemate.
It would be inappropriate not to comment on yesterday's elections in Iraq. By all accounts, they were the freest elections ever held in an Arab country. It is a significant accomplishment and might have the long-term effect President Bush had first dreamed to achieve. However, the mistakes made along the way were monumental, and only history will be able to judge this war's success. Even if Iraq ends up being a success story, it is a question whether the cost in treasured lives was justified.