Tzipi Hotovely 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Marriages between Jewish women and Arab men took center stage at a meeting of the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of Women this week, when committee chairwoman Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) hosted a hearing on the subject in honor of Jewish Identity Day in the Knesset.
“We must confront the fact that the country has not valued education, which is the only way to prevent Jewish women from forging life connections with non-Jews,” Hotovely said.
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“The struggle against assimilation only reaches headlines through stories about Jewish women marrying Muslim men, but it is important to remember that the phenomenon is much wider – 92,000 mixed families live in the State of Israel. There is a need to create a curriculum for girls in high schools that deals with Jewish identity. The fact that girls reach a state of intermarriage testifies to the fact that the education system was absent.”
Jewish Identity Day in the Knesset on Tuesday was sponsored by the Tzohar organization and by MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi), and featured a number of committee meetings, all focusing on aspects of Jewish identity in Israel. But not all the lawmakers thought that the subject was appropriate material for a committee hearing.
“There cannot be a hearing that seeks to determine with whom it is permissible to be married. It is a personal issue – there are things that the state should not be involved with,” complained MK Taleb a-Sanaa (United Arab List-Ta’al). “This hearing gives legitimacy to an anti-democratic and very dangerous situation in which the Knesset is expected to back up Halacha – the concept of Jewish identity does not need to make racism kosher.”
Sanaa elicited a chuckle from fellow MKs when he cited the Bible as proof of his argument.
“Ruth the Moabite wasn’t Jewish, but her descendant was King David,” he said. “I’d like to see what would happen if in France they held a hearing about what happens when Christians marry Jews.”
Yad L’Achim’s Zehava Drori said her organization took care of women who “are affiliated with all kinds of minorities.
“The scale of the problem is very wide – we feel that there is a constant silencing of the phenomenon,” she said.
Yad L’Achim representatives said there was a growing phenomenon of “girls who are converted to Islam without even being aware of the significance of what is happening to them. The sheikh comes to their house, and converts them.”
Under Israeli law, mixed-religion couples cannot be married in Israel, and thus the women are converted to Islam. But the women, said organization representatives, do not understand that their children, though Jews according to Halacha, will be registered as Muslim.
Yad L’Achim says it is currently working with approximately 1,000 women, while in 2008, it only had about 500. Most of the women, it says, came from backgrounds of severe economic or emotional distress.
“It is not racist to oppose intermarriage – marriages between Jewish women and Muslim men are like water and oil,” said Sarit, a Jewish woman who had been married to an Arab man. “It is not racist because they are not bad, but there are differences in mentalities that are impossible to deny.”
Ben-Zion Gopstein of the Lehava organization said that “there are a number of organizations that work with these girls after they ask for help, but we need to reach them before they get to the [Arab] villages.
“This is Lehava’s goal. We go to schools and to entertainment areas and explain to girls what it means to be a Jewish woman. There are those who date and marry Arabs – including those from religious schools, and haredi girls.”
Gopstein said that in one religious girls’ school he had visited in Bat Yam, 20 percent of the girls at the age of 14 were dating Arabs. “The problem is the legitimacy that is given today to intermarriage,” he said.
“The Jewish Agency invests millions in the war against assimilation
overseas, but here in Israel, every girl wants to be Bar Refaeli,” he
continued, referring to the Israeli supermodel who is dating non-Jewish
film star Leonardo DiCaprio.
Gopstein noted that “in this very Knesset, there is an MK who is married
to a German man,” a reference to Labor MK Einat Wilf. But, he
complained, “it is not politically correct to speak out about it. We
don’t discuss this as being unacceptable.”