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Netanyahu says 2 factions trying to topple government

In a deepening rift between Benjamin Netanyahu and American Jewry, the prime minister's senior aide Monday accused Reform and Conservative Jews of using a dispute over religion to try to topple the Israeli government.

A Conservative rabbi dismissed the charges as "paranoid."The sharp exchange followed a decision by Reform and Conservative leaders to press ahead with lawsuits seeking recognition of their movements in Israel.

The decision came despite an appeal from Netanyahu to give a committee he appointed five months ago more time to try to find a compromise. The Reform and Conservative leaders said there was no point in delaying court action since Orthodox rabbis have refused to even meet with them.

The decision put Netanyahu on a collision course with American Jews, many of whom belong to the two liberal streams.

Under pressure from three Orthodox parties that could topple his government, Netanyahu said earlier this month that if efforts at compromise outside the courts failed, he would back legislation formalizing the Orthodox monopoly.

Netanyahu's senior adviser, David Bar-Illan, accused the Reform and Conservative movements of deliberately trying to destabilize the Netanyahu government.

"There is no doubt that they are doing it, since they are affiliated with the opposition, to bring down the government," Bar-Illan said.