Thursday, July 15, 2010

Conversion bill dismays US senators

A US senator has taken the rare step of drafting a letter expressing concern about Israel’s pending conversion legislation, underscoring the wide dismay the bill has triggered in the American Jewish community.

The letter from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), understood to be addressed to Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren, outlines apprehensions over the bill’s language, according to sources familiar with the text. It is circulating for signatures from additional Jewish senators before being delivered to the embassy.

Caley Gray, communications director for Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey), one of the senators signing the letter, explained that “Senator Lautenberg hopes the Knesset does not pass this legislation, which he views as divisive.”

Sen. Carl Levin (D- Michigan), who met with concerned American Jewish officials Tuesday, said, "I am troubled by a proposal which I believe would make it more difficult for many people who want to convert to Judaism to do so."

Oren is also expected to receive an earful on the subject when he talks with several Jewish members of Congress Thursday at a meeting originally scheduled to follow up on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent visit.

“Israel should continue to be a welcoming place for Jews, as it has been through its history,” said Matt Dennis, communications director for Rep. Nita Lowey (D-New York), characterizing her thinking. “She is concerned that this bill would alienate Jews around the world and risk weakening the sense of unity within the Diaspora that is critical to Israel’s security.”

“This is an Israeli government policy decision, but there are implications for American Jews.

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