Worrying Opposition to Mixed Marriage in Israel

The country must avoid becoming a backward, fundamentalist society in which religious and racial purity are maintained by force.

Mahmoud Mansour and Morel Malka arriving for their wedding recpetion in Rishon Letzion Sunday night.Ofer Vaknin

A couple in Israel decided to marry and settle down. Morel Malka and Mahmoud Mansour celebrated their wedding Sunday night. The fact that the bride was born Jewish before converting to Islam and the groom is Muslim raised an ugly wave of racism against the couple.

The nonprofit group known as Lehava — meaning flame, and also a Hebrew acronym for “preventing assimilation in the Holy Land” — is wholly racist. It led a campaign of threats and intimidation against Malka and Mansour.

These efforts reached their peak during their celebration as dozens of right-wing activists demonstrated outside the reception hall. It took dozens of police officers and security guards to ensure that the wedding went on as planned.

The right of Israelis to marry the person of their choice appears to be in danger. Though Israeli society can somehow accept mixed couples of Christians and Jews, as is sometimes the case with immigrants from the former Soviet Union, racism emerges when it comes to mixed marriages between Jews and Arabs.

Malka and Mansour violated no law, of course. The threats against them are the kind that would happen in a fanatical theocracy in the developing world — not in a Western democracy that Israel pretends to be.

President Reuven Rivlin did well to congratulate the couple immediately. “There is a red line between freedom of speech and protest on the one hand, and incitement on the other,” he wrote. “Mahmoud and Morel from Jaffa have decided to marry and to exercise their freedom in a democratic country. The manifestations of incitement against them are infuriating and distressing.”

Israeli society is in no danger of any assimilation wave. It faces a much greater danger: the transformation into a backward, fundamentalist society in which religious and racial purity are maintained by force.

A former Haaretz editor in chief, the late Gershom Schocken, wrote the following in his essay entitled “The Curse of Ezra,” which was published 29 years ago this month: “To ensure the formation of an Israeli nation composed of all the ethnic groups in this country, the barriers between them must be knocked down. That includes restrictions on marriages between members of different groups.”

This statement by Schocken applies today as well. At the time he was taking issue with the rabbinate, and sure enough, Israel does not have civil marriage to this day. Now it is fanatical nationalists who are fighting against mixed marriages.