While you were likely spending your weekend trying to cool off, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was heating things up at his cabinet meeting Sunday, taking a stand against the proposed, and controversial, conversion bill.
“The Prime Minister said today in the cabinet meeting that he objects to the proposed conversion bill, which could tear the Jewish people apart,” said an official statement released yesterday by Netanyahu’s office. “Efforts will be made to consensually remove the bill, but if they fail Netanyahu will ask members of Likud and other coalition parties to reject the bill.”
As someone who normally does not find himself in the position of praising this particular Israeli prime minister, let me say that the latter half of that statement speaks volumes: By taking a principled stand against the bill, Netanyahu is rejecting its author, David Rotem of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, as well as Rotem’s political patron, party boss Avigdor Lieberman, a rift that could spell the downfall of Netanyahu’s precarious cabinet. While Lieberman has said repeatedly that neither he nor his party is slated to leave the government anytime soon, the foreign minister has nonetheless engaged in a series of provocative steps against the prime minister: On Friday, for example, Lieberman appointed a new ambassador to the United Nations without following protocol and first clearing the appointment with Netanyahu.
Seen in this light, Netanyahu’s position is even more impressive. While some skeptics noted that the prime minister originally supported the bill and changed his mind only when American Jewish leaders expressed their dismay, Netanyahu is nonetheless required to pay a steep political price for his struggle against the Rotem Bill, and opponents of that disastrous bit of legislation should take heart in knowing that Bibi’s up for the battle.