A few hundred protesters demonstrated outside the wedding of an Arab man and a Jewish convert to Islam in Rishon Lezion on Sunday night, after a court denied a push to ban the protest hours earlier.
Central District police said that six people from the protest were detained and that some tried to approach the wedding hall but were stopped. None of the dozens of counter-protesters supporting the wedding were detained, police said.
Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court ruled on Sunday that the group Lehava could protest the event, but at a location 200 meters from the wedding hall, chosen by the police.
Ami Ben-David, spokesman for the Central District, said on Sunday that police would deploy “more than a few dozen officers but less than hundreds,” adding that they would include police from the special patrol unit and Border Police officers.
The couple hired 14 security guards for the wedding celebration, reportedly at a cost of tens of thousands of shekels.
As the wedding approached on Sunday, President Reuven Rivlin posted a status on his Facebook page wishing peace and joy to the couple, Mahmoud Mansour and Morel Malka, on the occasion of their marriage.
The couple met five years ago. Mahmoud is a Muslim Arab whose family is from Jaffa and Morel was born Jewish but recently converted to Islam.
Both the bride and the groom have been subjected to harassment, as has the owner of the Rishon Lezion wedding hall where the couple were scheduled to wed. The bride’s father was opposed to the marriage but could do nothing to persuade his daughter to change her mind.
When Rivlin learned Lehava was planning to demonstrate outside the banquet hall, he wrote on his Facebook page that the redline that runs between freedom of expression and protest and incitement had been crossed.
He noted that the couple, in deciding to get married, exercised their freedom to do so in a democratic country.
Demonstrations of manifestations of incitement against them are both infuriating and worrying, he wrote.
Regardless of his own views on intermarriage or those of anyone else, he continued, not everyone had to be happy for the young couple, but everyone had to respect their decision.
There are many difficult disputes within Israeli society, Rivlin added, but there was no room for violence, incitement and racism in the Jewish and democratic State of Israel. Racist expressions undermine the foundations of a joint Jewish and democratic society, Rivlin stated. He concluded by wishing Mahmoud and Morel health, joy and happiness.
Health Minister Yael German, a Yesh Atid MK and formerly a mayor representing Meretz, sent a personal telegram of congratulations to the couple on their wedding.
“On this, your day of rejoicing, I want to congratulate you and give you support. May you have many years together of happiness, love and tolerance. I hope that your nuptials will be an additional step toward turning Israel into a more tolerant and pluralistic place,” the health minister said.
Senior United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni was critical of the marriage.
“At this time there is such a serious danger of assimilation to the Jewish people which pains the heart, and it is an embarrassment that a Jewish girl goes with a non-Jewish man; and the height of impudence – they call this a marriage and harm Jewish tradition and the chain of the generations of our people in public,” he said.
“We strongly denounce this embarrassing event which besmirched the Jewish people, and as happened throughout history, weeds such as these will not write the future of the Jewish people.”
Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth, director of the Beit Hillel national-religious rabbinical association, criticized Lehava and the way it had behaved on the issue.
“The struggle against assimilation and mixed marriages is a matter of consensus,” said Neuwirth.
“But the aggressive behavior of Lehava is achieving the opposite goal and is causing the public to identify with assimilation,” he argued, in reference to support the couple received from members of the public who have protested against the group’s intimidation.
“The struggle against assimilation needs to be conducted through educating people to have a Jewish identity and with warmth and love. A violent and aggressive fight causes great damage to Judaism and strengthens intermarriage,” he continued.
In reaction to Neuwirth’s comments, far-right political figure and former MK Michael Ben-Ari criticized the rabbi and accused him of not doing enough to prevent assimilation.
“What do you do? Did you initiate a conference [on the matter]? Did you distribute information about it?” he asked in an article on the Kipa news website.
Ben-Ari defended Lehava’s director Benzi Gopstein as a personal friend and praised the activities of Lehava as a student of Rabbi Meir Kahane, and as someone who followed in the late rabbi’s path.
Earlier on Sunday, right-wing activist and attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir, who represented Gopstein in the legal dispute over the demonstration, called the decision to allow the protest to go ahead a victory for freedom of expression.
Gopstein said that it was “important that such a wedding does not pass off without protest.”
“The State of Israel invests millions [against] assimilation in the Diaspora, and we should not have to deal with this phenomenon in Israel as well.”
Greer Fay Cashman and Judy Siegel contributed to this report.