Israel's Mixed Marriage Controversy: How Low Have We Sunk?

Could we imagine a wedding between a Christian and a Jew becoming national news in a European country?

Ofer Vaknin

That the marriage of Mahmoud Mansour and Morel Malka became a subject for public debate is embarrassing and testifies to how low we have sunk. Could we imagine a wedding between a Christian and a Jew becoming a national news item in any European country? Indeed, the Lehava organization that launched a public protest against this wedding is worthy of every condemnation. But we must remember that racism didn’t start with Lehava: Israeli law doesn’t permit marriages between people of different religions, and if Malka had not converted to Islam, the two could not have married in Israel, where marriage is subject to religious law.

Of course, such a couple can get married abroad and be registered as married here in Israel, or they can live together and be recognized as a cohabiting de-facto couple under Israeli law, but it’s worth remembering that.

We cannot merely be outraged by Lehava without addressing the manner in which the ban on intermarriage serves in practice the notion that we must “protect” Jewish women from the “Arab threat,” as Prof. Zvi Triger of the College of Management has demonstrated in his research.

While allowing Lehava to demonstrate, the Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court, from which the couple sought an injunction, ordered the Lehava demonstrators to stay at least 200 meters from the banquet hall – a compromise to which the couple agreed. But was that far enough?

In a case where demonstrators sought to protest in front of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s home, the High Court of Justice ruled that with regard to a demonstration in front of the home of a public figure, the right to privacy may trump the right to demonstrate. The court therefore ruled that one must assure that one party’s right to assemble does not substantially impinge on the other party’s right to privacy, and thus police were permitted to set reasonable limits regarding the timing, place, and manner of the demonstration. The High Court has reiterated this principle in several similar instances.

The Rishon Letzion court, therefore, could have taken these legal principles into account when deliberating the couple’s request, and ruled against holding the demonstration near the wedding venue altogether – even more so because at issue was the marriage of private people, not public figures, giving the right to privacy even greater weight.

It should also be noted that when a demonstration needs a permit, the police is allowed to check whether incitement to racism is involved. While such considerations ought to be invoked on very limited occasions, it should have at least been grounds for keeping the demonstration even further away.

Given all this, one cannot ignore the gap between how Lehava’s right to hold a racist demonstration near a private celebration was preserved, and the many freedom of assembly violations we’ve witnessed recently: The police ban on an antiwar protest in Tel Aviv 10 days ago; the many instances in which protesters were arrested during social-justice demonstrations; and the 1,500 antiwar protesters arrested over the past month, nearly all of them Arabs, as reported here over the weekend. Apparently, problematic demonstrations against Arabs are permitted, but Arabs who demonstrate are at high risk of arrest.