Love in the Time of Racism: The New, Dangerous Low in the Campaign to Stop Interracial Relationships

Incitement over relationships between Jewish women and Arab men has been rising sharply in Israel in recent years. A new report examines the phenomenon and its real aims.

Vered Lee
Vered Lee
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Vered Lee
Vered Lee

Last September, five Jewish youths attacked an Arab man in Jerusalem’s Katamon neighborhood. The Arab was escorting a female work colleague home and was attacked because he was suspected of “taking advantage of a Jewish woman,” according to the statements made to the police by three of the defendants.

A month before, in August 2012, Jewish teens mobbed and attacked a 20-year-old Arab man, seriously injuring him. The indictment in that case reveals that the young attackers in “Cat Square” in Jerusalem were inciting against Arabs and had announced that Arabs weren’t allowed to sit there, that any Arabs passing by should be beaten, and inflamed the atmosphere with cries of “Death to Arabs” and “Mohammed is dead.” Things heated up when a teenage girl who was with the Jewish boys told them that she was once raped, apparently by an Arab assailant. In response, the youths decided to beat a young Arab who happened to be passing by and with no connection whatsoever to the incident the girl had described.

These two lynching cases represent the peak of the racist incitement that has been steadily on the rise in recent years in Israel, centering largely on relationships between Jewish women and Arab men. A new report from the Israeli Religious Action Center on this specific brand of racism surveys and analyzes the phenomenon from a gender perspective, examining the main organizations that are concerned with “the honor of daughters of Israel,” keeping them away from Arab men and “saving” them from assimilation and mixed marriages.

“We noticed that when MK Meir Kahane claimed in the 1980s that Arab men were threatening to steal our wives and daughters, such statements were perceived as part of his extremist and taboo dogma, while today such statements are no longer a fringe phenomenon but becoming more and more common in the Israeli landscape,” says attorney Einat Hurvitz, the Israel Religious Action Center’s director of Legal and Public Advocacy. She is spearheading the center’s handling of the issue and initiated the report, which was authored by attorney Ruth Carmi.

“Today,” she says, “there are organizations and foundations that publish racist statements under the guise of ‘saving the Jewish people,’ ensuring its future and safeguarding its daughters, when in fact their entire aim is to create and maintain total separation between Jews and Arabs in Israel, to prevent coexistence between Jews and Arabs, to exclude and humiliate the Arab public in Israel and to label it a dangerous enemy to be guarded against.”

Which organizations and foundations are publishing racist material?

“The most prominent include Lehava ‏(Preventing Assimilation in the Holy Land‏), Hemla, Yad L’Achim, Lev L’Achim, Derekh Hayim, the website of The Jewish Voice. The racist dogma of these organizations is disseminated via posters, broadsides, conferences, websites, radio broadcasts, advertising campaigns and from the synagogue podium. Since the end of 2010 we’ve seen a clear rise in the phenomenon. The organizations promoting incitement in this area cleverly create the impression of a widespread, acute social problem of assimilation and mixed marriages that require the ‘rescue’ of Jewish women who were ‘abducted’ or ‘seduced.’ The women have to be kept away from Arab men.

“Complaints about this trend made their way to official Knesset discussions. In February 2011, there was a hearing in the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women as part of ‘Jewish identity day’ at the Knesset, on the subject of ‘the phenomenon of assimilation in Israel.’ The discussion dealt with marriages of Jewish women to Muslim men, which were described as violent and harmful relationships, and with ways − from the educational standpoint, primarily − to prevent such marriages in Israel.

“Ten months later, there was another Knesset hearing, this time in the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, under the heading ‘The abduction of new female immigrants by minorities.’ It was scheduled as an emergency hearing by committee chairman MK Danny Danon ‏(Likud‏) and included testimony from a representative of Yad L’Achim, the director of Lehava and from far-right activist Baruch Marzel.’”

Hemla, mentioned in your report, is funded by the Social Affairs Ministry.

“Hemla is a nonprofit organization for aiding the needy and is funded by the state. Hemla’s stated purpose is to assist the needy. In 2002, the organization also undertook ‘to aid girls of Russian background who are in danger of assimilation and descending into crime, by rehabilitating them in an apartment and providing sociological and mental treatment and integrating them in Jewish society.’

“Since 2005, Hemla has received annual funding of between NIS 600,000-700,000, accounting for half of its budget, from the ministry, which enables it to operate a shelter for women and girls in distress. For over a year we’ve been trying to obtain a copy of their agreement with the ministry, to no avail.

“According to the ministry, the funds are designated for ‘therapy, support and personal and social rehabilitation,’ but in fact the money is used to ‘rehabilitate’ women who had romantic relationships with Arabs. Hemla’s PR person and one of its authorized signatories is Benzi Gopstein, director general of Lehava and director of the Otzma Leyisrael campaign in the last election.”

There have been a number of media reports presenting the stories of ‘girls who were kidnapped’ by minorities and about the work of these organizations to save them.

“The police have no data on the phenomenon. How many cases are there in which a Jewish woman is forced into a violent relationship by an Arab man, and how many ‘heroic rescue operations’ of this kind are there? I can’t tell you as long as the police won’t provide any statistics. I can’t say how much this is really happening. At the Knesset hearing, the organizations talked about hundreds of cases a year in which Jewish girls are ‘abducted’ to Arab villages. It’s portrayed as if it’s a plot by the Arab leadership and the Arabs, but when you take a closer look, you find that there is no proof of anything like this.”

The antiassimilation activity has been going on for many years, as you also note in the report. What is the new trend you see in the pattern of behavior by these organizations?

“The new and worrisome trend aims to label Arabs as plotters, seducers and abusers lying in wait for Jewish girls and seducing them to move to their houses and villages, into a harmful and abusive relationship. This sort of propaganda is meant to create a wall of suspicion and hostility that will prevent any possible relationship between the two peoples.

“The behavior attributed to Arab men is often portrayed as part of a national Arab plot to seize control of the Land of Israel and weaken the Jewish people. This enables these organizations and various rabbis to disseminate a racist doctrine and to preach against any connection between Jewish women and Arab men, including educational, employment and academic ties, and connections through joint volunteer national service and leisure activities.”

What sets this report apart is its analysis of the racist incitement from a gender-based and feminist perspective.

“Many of the racist statements regarding relations between Jewish
women and Arab men refer to the sexuality of the Arab men and ascribe seductive and threatening qualities to them. The picture that emerges is that, with their seductiveness, the Arabs are able to trick the innocent Jewish girls. The quotes make it appear that Arab men are devoting themselves entirely to seducing and harassing Jewish girls.

“Counterposed against the threatening sexuality and negative characteristics of the Arab man is the Jewish woman who is presented as a passive figure. According to the people and organizations behind the incitement, the Jewish girls are being seduced and misled. They have no independent will or reason. The language used in these announcements and campaigns − ‘are led,’ ‘are seduced,’ ‘are taken’ − deprives the women of any independent thinking. It objectifies them and treats them as passive. These stereotypes portray ‘our’ women as modest and saintly, and the foreign men as possessing a sinister sexuality compared to that of ‘our’ men.”

The attitude toward women generally ranges from the extreme of portraying them as total naifs who were seduced into living with Arabs, to portraying them as having chosen relationships and marriage with Arabs as unfaithful women bringing shame upon the Jewish people.

The report cites the Lehava website, which contains “the Page of Disgrace,” where “information about the unfaithful women who, out of choice and ideology, chose to leave the Jewish people and to openly live with goyim ... We want to expose them and make their shame known to all.”

The page features pictures of the women, along with some brief background information on them, and the identity of their partner. At the top of the page is former MK Einat Wilf ‏(“an MK in the State of Israel married to a German goy!”), and she is followed by other well-known Israeli women, including actresses, academics and others who are in relationships with non-Jewish men.

Is the possibility that an Arab man and a Jewish woman could form a relationship on the basis of love and mutual respect inconceivable as far as they are concerned?

“In their view, such a relationship is illegitimate. Either the relationship is the result of force being exerted by the Arab man, or it comes from the woman’s defiance and deliberate betrayal of her people and homeland. Accepting the idea that a Jewish woman could willingly have a relationship with an Arab man is just as inconceivable as forgoing the categorization of the Arab man as an enemy and accepting the possibility of Jews and Arabs living together. This possibility is simply inconceivable for those who foment this racist incitement.”

This attitude expresses control of women’s sexuality and “nationalization” of the woman’s body.

“In many cultures, the nation and the state are personified in the female body. The racist incitement that focuses on relations of Jewish women with Arab men appropriates the woman’s body from her and makes it national property. The woman’s body is the nation, and so the war for it is the war for the nation and the crux of the conflict comes to be concentrated in the woman’s body.”

This war over the woman’s body, says the report, is a part of the national struggle. “The images that appear in the ads against relations between Jewish women and Arab men are taken from the world of war, and since sexual conquest of a woman symbolizes a military defeat, sexual relations between a Jewish woman and an Arab man symbolize a Jewish military defeat that must be stopped,” Hurvitz explains. She illustrates her point with a flyer that was distributed to IDF troops as part of a public campaign by the Derekh Hayim movement, titled “The War is at Home”:

“Shalom young men of Israel / While you are in the army, a war is raging at home / A call has been issued in the Arab media for Arab young men to harass Jewish girls as part of the war on the State of Israel / ... When you are at home, take notice if anyone around you is attacking or seducing the daughters of Israel. Do not stand by. Your help is vital. This war is different from a regular war; it requires a lot of Jewish intelligence and a lot of Jewish feeling. When you are at home you are not on vacation; at home you are on the battlefield.”

Hurvitz also points out the use being made of the term “sexual terror attacks.” “In August 2012, Lehava issued a call on its website to ‘stop the sexual terror attacks on the daughters of Israel.’ Along with the call to stop the ‘sexual terror attacks,’ the page – in black and yellow – shows an outstretched arm under the caption: ‘Bomb them!’” In the numerous examples cited in the report, one sees that the racist incitement is focused entirely on relationships between the Jewish woman and the Arab man, and not vice versa.

“In January 2011, Lehava launched a campaign to issue kashrut certification to businesses that don’t employ Arabs,” adds Hurvitz. “The explanations given for the initiative mentioned the fear of assimilation and bore the headline: ‘Ahmed bin Sarah. We must prevent the next case from happening!’ Expressions appearing in the campaigns of these organizations leave no doubt that their aim is exclusion of the Arab public and not a war on assimilation.

“There is a lack of correlation between the focus on relationships of Jewish women and Arab men and the claim that this is part of a legitimate struggle against assimilation. In Jewish law, a person is Jewish if his mother was Jewish. So the offspring of the kind of mixed Jewish-Arab couple at which the inflammatory messages are aimed would be Jews.

“Someone who is genuinely concerned about assimilation should be equally, if not more, concerned about relationships between Jewish men and non-Jewish women, because of the fact that their children would not be considered Jewish according to the halakha. The total absence of any attention to this type of relationship attests that the focus on relations between Jewish women and Arab men is being used as a tool for bashing and incitement against the Arab population.”

Are such displays of racism being dealt with by the legal system?

“These displays of racism are not being denounced by the general public or the Israeli leadership and aren’t receiving due legal attention, and thus they become part of the general and accepted public discourse. We monitored and filed complaints on 12 incidents that occurred since the 2010 encouragement of a ban on contact between a Jewish woman and an Arab man. The attorney general has the right to decide whether to try someone, and the practice that has arisen is that the police do not open an investigation without his order. On most of the cases of incitement described in the report, we received a reply that ‘the matter has been taken under consideration.’

“There are cases that were closed on the grounds that there was no intention of incitement. In our view, the examples meet the criminal basis for the offense of racial incitement. When someone shoots somebody, it’s enough that he intended to fire the gun for intent to harm to be ascribed to him. With racist incitement, you don’t need to just say or publish the statements, it must also be proven that there was a special intent to incite racism. The answer we received in most cases is that no intent to incite racism was proven because the intent was to prevent assimilation.”

The report cites examples from throughout history. A comparison is made between the propaganda being used in Israel against relationships between Jewish women and Arab men and the behavior patterns of the Nazi regime in Germany; Judaism’s attitude toward non-Jews; racial segregation in the United States; and apartheid in South Africa.

“The attitude that is revealed in these messages regarding ‘mixed couples’ enables us to expose racist ideologies that exist in Israel society and to discern their existence. It was important to us to present the subject from a comparative perspective. When you look at other cases and other countries, you see that the combination of race and religion is what counts. The ‘foreign’ man is always portrayed as wanting to seduce the girls of the nation with which there is a conflict. This is something that repeats itself throughout history. Seen through this prism, the relationship between an Arab man and a Jewish woman involves a humiliation of the Jewish woman who chooses to live with an Arab man because the woman’s ability to give birth is an expression of her people’s nationality and the ‘violation’ committed by these men is essentially a violation of the national honor.

“I want to say that we were nervous about issuing a report with such assertions, because we ourselves are basically exposing the similarity between this phenomenon and some of the darkest regimes in history, including the Nazi regime and slavery, but we know that despite the sensitivity, this comparison had to be made. It’s the same technique and the same criticisms of relationships.

“This comparison is necessary because we as Jews must learn from history. The state must look at which direction it is headed. We’re worried about the direction that Israel is going in, and we hope that this document will spur real action by the Israeli government authorities and encourage genuine social debate.”

Sign reading 'Stop the sexual attacks on Israeli girls!' Credit: Lehava
Another sign reading 'Arab! Don’t dare to even think of a Jewish girl!'
Einat Hurvitz. 'The new and worrisome trend aims to label Arabs as plotters, seducers and abusers.'Credit: Emil Salman



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