Israel Asks, 'Who Is a Jew?'

The problem with the current law -- which would be further complicated by the proposed bill -- is that a person can be Jewish enough to qualify for the Law of Return and receive Israeli citizenship but not enough to satisfy the Orthodox rabbinate establishment which controls marriage. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are stuck in this holding pattern, including nearly half a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky warns the legislation would create rifts by defining many former Soviet Union citizens as "second-class Jews."

Lieberman downplays conversion law controversy, saying his party advocates “live and let live,” non-intrusive principles when it comes to Jewish community life outside Israel. At the same time, Lieberman negates the interconnectedness of the Diaspora-Israel connection. “They can run their community life without us. It's the same thing here: They should not interfere here," he told press.

In the interim, after a week of high tension and speculation, Netanyahu and Lieberman seem to have agreed that a pre-summer recess coalition crisis over the bill isn’t ideal.  Both issued conciliatory statements late Monday in deference to broader political aims. But the deep chasm on the bill and numerous other policy issues still separate the two.

For the time being, the conversion bill is buried and dispute with American Jewish leaders has been diverted. But when strategically convenient, it will undoubtedly arise again, creating crisis, alarm, and debate inside Israel and beyond.