Barak slams 'wave of racism' in rabbi, rebbetzin letters

Reform women rabbis issue statement against "call to exclude the Arab citizen in Israel from workplaces, the cities’ streets and the public sphere."

Ehud Barak (photo credit: Ahikam Seri/Bloomberg)
Ehud Barak
(photo credit: Ahikam Seri/Bloomberg)
Shortly after a group of rabbis’ wives publicized a letter calling on Jewish girls to keep away from Arab men, over 30 Reform women rabbis issued a statement on Wednesday declaring the rebbetzins’ letter “yet another link in the growing wave of racial incitement and intimidation, that has not received the appropriate response from the country’s leaders and its law enforcement agencies.”
No legal or disciplinary action has been taken against the nearly 50 municipal rabbis who recently issued an edict against renting or selling real-estate to non-Jews in Israel.
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“This letter,” the women rabbis, from the Israeli Council of Progressive Rabbis, wrote of the rebbetzin’s document, “is a call to exclude the Arab citizen in Israel from workplaces, the cities’ streets and the public sphere.”
On the same day as the Reform rabbis’ letter, the Labor Party called to put an end to the “racist sentiments, recently aired in the media.”
“The rabbi and rebbetzin letters are part of a wave of racism that is threatening to pull Israeli society into dark and dangerous places,” Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak said in an announcement. “The Labor Party under my leadership is active in bringing together the various groups of Israel’s citizens, in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence.”
In their statement, the Reform rabbis noted four “sins” in the rebbetzins’ appeal: “the sin of racism and hating the Arab residents and citizens living among us here... the sin of insulting condescension aimed at our girls... who are presented as helpless and objects of manipulation...
the sin of chauvinism, in addressing the letter only to women, while the rates of men marrying non-Jewish women are much higher than those of women marrying non-Jews... [and the] sin of an exile mind-set, in creating a discourse of fear and seclusion that does not suit a nation safely living on its land.”
While stating their objection to interfaith marriages, a ceremony they would not conduct, the women rabbis noted their positive outlook on social and professional connections “between ourselves, our daughters and our sons, and all citizens and residents of the State of Israel, regardless of religion, race and sex.”
The statement added that “Jews confident in their Jewish identity should not fear contacts with people of other races,” which, it said, are the foundation for the construction of a tolerant, healthy and sustainable society. “There is no point in preserving our heritage without keeping its command of being better people, worthy of God’s image in which we were created.”
On Tuesday, nearly 30 wives of prominent rabbis issued a letter warning young Jewish women who work or volunteer with Arabs, against being drawn into relationships with them. The letter was the initiative of an organization called Lehava, an acronym for “preventing assimilation.”
“Your job is tough, your dedication great, and you don’t always get sufficient recognition, or a word of thanks,” the rebbetzins wrote of young women who work in hospitals and other public institutions as part of their national service. “In those places, there are quite a few Arab laborers who give themselves Hebrew names. Yusuf becomes Yossi, Samir – Sammy, and Abed becomes Ami. They seek relationships with you, try to win your affection and give you all the attention in the world.”
However, the good manners and concern displayed by the Arab men are but a ploy to draw the women to their villages, the letter cautioned, “and when they are in control everything changes.”
“Your grandmothers never dreamt that one of their descendants would do something that would remove the family’s following generations from the Jewish people,” the rebbetzins wrote. “For your sake, for the further generations, and so you don’t undergo the terrible ordeal, we appeal to you... do not go out with non-Jews, don’t work in places with non-Jews and don’t do national service together with non-Jews.”
Among the signatories on the letter were a daughter-in-law of former chief Sephardi Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the wife of Kiryat Arba’s Rabbi Dov Lior and the wife of Beit El’s Rabbi Zalman Melamed.
Rabbi Mauricio Balter, president of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly of Israel, said in a statement on Tuesday that “the Masorti Movement does not support intermarriage, of course, but there is no connection [between that and] the hatred and incitement campaign, appropriate to dark periods in history when the fear of the stranger turned into persecution and manhunts.
Whoever feels the need for seclusion should check their Jewish identity.”
Balter asserted that “our faith is firm enough to treat non-Jews equally and with respect.”