Reports received from Israel raise the disturbing spectre of another destructive controversy over the Law of Return. As they did following the last national election in l973, the Orthodox political parties have demanded as a condition for their participation in a government coalition that the Law of Return be amended to exclude from its provisions converts accepted by non-Orthodox rabbis. Unlike his predecessors, Mrs. Meir and Mr. Rabin, Premier-designate Begin has voiced support for this proposal, and has given his commitment to seek legislation for its implementation.
Now, as three years ago, this attempt to relegate to second-class status all but an officially-recognized expression of Orthodox Judaism comes at a time when the need for world-wide Jewish unity is paramount. The concerns raised in the past by an overwhelming majority of Jews throughout the world seem to have been forgotten. We again face the threat that the laws of the State of Israel will be used to separate Jew from Jew, with the religious convictions of many of Israel's most ardent supporters subordinated to the designs of a small but entrenched minority.
The issue in question is not Halacha, but the use of the state to enforce religious standards and further religious objectives. Should the laws of Israel be employed to define who is a Jew in terms accepted by only a small segment of the Jewish community in Israel and throughout the world, the essential pluralistic character of Jewish life today would be jeopardized. Most of the conversions outside of Israel are performed by non-Orthodox rabbis. Reform and Conservative converts are welcomed into the total Jewish community; they participate enthusiastically in communal activities, including projects dedicated to Israel's material and political survival. Israel must reflect the realities of the Jewish world or risk isolation from k'lal Yisrael.
Revision of the Law of Return would create a tension between the State and world Jewry because, for the first time, the Knesset - a secular authority - would presume to pass judgment on the Jewish competence and validity of religious movements outside the State. The State is already severely criticized for the religious coercion which the religious parties impose in Israel. Shall this coercion now be imposed on Jews abroad as well?
We fully understand the exigencies of the moment and desire that an effective coalition be formed as soon as possible. This urgency, however, must not be allowed to serve the needs of those who set their own parochial aims above the welfare of the State and the unity of the Jewish people, which is its precondition. At this critical time in Israel's history, when issues of war and peace command the attention of Jews everywhere, it is not our intention to voice the many concerns we have regarding the current status of non-Orthodox Judaism in Israel. We will, however, respond as we did three years ago to any new attempt at enforcing additional restrictions.
We, therefore, call upon Mr. Begin to resist pressure being exerted by the Orthodox parties and to maintain the status quo, so that world Jewry can stand united in support of Israel, undeterred by internecine controversy.