After debate that pitted Orthodox against more liberal Jews, Parliament narrowly defeated legislation that would have restricted the definition of a Jew and thus limited immigration to Isreal.
Jewish communities abroad, particularly in the United States, had a special interest in the measures because of Israel's unique Law of Return, which guarantees automatic citizenship to all Jews who qualify under Israeli law.The two proposals would have recognized as Jewish only those converts who were brought into the faith by Orthodox rabbis, not those converted by Reform or Conservative rabbis.
One proposal would have amended the Law of Return and the other would have put the Orthodox rabbinate in Israel in charge of determining who is a Jew.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir told American Jews he would not support the so-called "Who's a Jew amendments," but voted for them in the Knesset and enforced party discipline on others of his Likud bloc to follow suit. Still, the two proposals failed by votes of 60-53 and 60-51.
During intense debate, Rabbi Meir Kahane, an American-born member of Parliament know for his anti-Arab views, was ejected from the chamber.
The 120-member Knesset also rejected a bill providing pardons for Jews now jailed for terrorist acts against Arabs, including murder.
Avraham Verdiger, who proposed the Who's a Jew legislation, said it would "maintain the purity" of the Jewish people, preserve the "uniqueness" of Jews and help stop Jews in other countries from assimilating into the general population.