In a statement that could have major political repercussions, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that Israel had to protect itself from “fake conversions.”
Coming as it did after last week’s High Court ruling granting legal recognition under the Right of Return to Reform converts in Israel, the comment drew condemnation from that movement’s leaders.
Netanyahu, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, linked the issue to the influx of illegal African migrants.
Asked if he was concerned about African asylum seekers converting to obtain citizenship Netanyahu responded “Not only from there, you could have it from the entire world,” adding that the government has to “protect the borders of Israel so that we’re not overrun,” he was quoted as saying by the Post.
Regarding the court ruling, Netanyahu also said the country has to be “very, very careful about tampering with the Law of Return.”
The prime minister asserted that “A lot of people want to come into the country,” and added “I prevented the overrunning of Israel, which is the only first-world country that you can walk to from Africa,” in reference to the African asylum seekers and migrants who arrived in the country. Some 30,000 to 35,000 of them remain.
Gilad Kariv, a prominent Reform figure in Israel and the fourth-placed candidate on the Labor Party’s current election slate, said he was disturbed by the fact that Netanyahu has not embraced the High Court ruling, and said it was indicative of his alliance with the chareidi parties and his severing of ties with the Reform and Conservative.
He rejected the connection made to African migrants. “Prime Minister Netanyahu knows that the conversion issue does not have any impact on migrant workers or the entrance of asylum seekers to Israel,” said Kariv.
The leaders of Israel’s Orthodox community all denounced the court’s recognition of non-halachic conversions, and chareidi MKs said they plan to pass legislation that will override the ruling.