Controversy over celebrity marriage a stain on Israel

Israeli leaders lose the plot following the marriage between Jewish-Israeli actor Tzachi Halevi and Muslim-Israeli news anchor Lucy Aharish

By CHARLES BYBELEZER/THE MEDIA LINE
October 13, 2018 06:27
3 minute read.
wedding rings

Wedding rings [Illustrative]. (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)

The controversy surrounding Wednesday's marriage between Jewish-Israeli actor Tzachi Halevi and Muslim-Israeli news anchor Lucy Aharish constitutes a shameful stain on the State of Israel.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who spent seven years in prison for fraud and then reassumed the same government position soon after his release, pandered to his Haredi base by contending that, "This is not the right thing to do.… The pain of assimilation around the world is destroying the Jewish nation." Oren Hazan, a Likud backbencher who denies allegations he smoked crystal meth and hired prostitutes for clients while running a casino in Bulgaria, suggested that Halevi had been "Islamized," before offering these words of wisdom: "I don't blame Lucy Aharish for seducing a Jewish soul. She didn't have the goal of harming our nation and preventing future Jewish children," he wrote on social media.

Except that in both men's minds she is to be faulted, given that according to Jewish law the offspring of a non-Jewish mother are not considered Jewish.

It is understandable that the issue of inter-marriage be of concern, given that Jews in the United States have long been wedding non-Jews at a rate of about fifty percent. There are, however, numerous forums in which to engage in civil discussion over the matter, and Twitter is not one of them.

Moreover, inter-marriage in Israel is not a significant phenomenon, its rate technically being zero. That is because Deri and his ilk—the majority of whom do not serve in the military while benefitting from disproportionate levels of state funding for their yeshivas; and a large portion of whom reject outright Israel's right to exist—maintain a monopoly over virtually all religious ceremonies and practices in the country and would never sanction the marriage of a Jew and non-Jew.

Therefore, the estimated 5-10 percent of all marriages in Israel that are civil mixed-faith unions are not officially recognized. This applies to tens of thousands of Russians that emigrated from the former Soviet Union whose religious status remains in limbo due to the Chief Rabbinate's refusal to certify their Jewishness or to ease restrictions on the conversion process, over which the ultra-Orthodox maintain a stranglehold.

How ironic, then, that both Deri and Hazan implored Aharish to convert to Judaism, considering the former goes out of his way to make it as difficult as possible to do so.

While I do not condone inter-marriage and strongly believe that everyone is entitled to express an opinion, the manner in which this public debate unfolded was unconscionable, with the newlyweds essentially used as political pawns. Deri and Hazan were attempting to score points with their constituencies, the smearing of Halevi and Aharish be damned.

But even angry responses from some parliamentarians were politicized. For example, after extending her heartfelt congratulations to the couple, Zionist Union lawmaker Stav Shaffir felt compelled to add that, "I hope everyone can see who we're dealing with here and the awful people that [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu brought in." Others spoke of "dark" and "racist" forces in the governing coalition.

I happen to know Lucy, having worked with her at i24news. Though we seldom saw eye-to- eye and sometimes openly clashed, I am certain that we both agree on one thing: namely, that she is in no way, shape or form a threat to the nation. To the contrary, as a prominent Arab-Israeli supporter of her birth country and staunch advocate of co-existence, Aharish is a leading voice of moderation in her community.

One can only hope that this incident will not change her perception of Israel and those who control it.

Indeed, that such a fiasco erupted over a private matter demonstrates that no longer is anything off-limits—dare I say sacred—in the Holy Land. Notably, this comes amid mounting criticism directed at Jerusalem over initiatives perceived as discriminatory and undemocratic.

This, more than one Israeli wedding, is cause for alarm.

It is, at the very least, reason enough for self-reflection.

To this end, Deri and Hazan might take the opportunity to look in the mirror and ask themselves how their own actions have contributed to damaging the social and moral fabric of the nation they profess so dearly to love.


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