To disrupt a wedding celebration and spoil the joy of two young people joining their lives together, one needs a very good reason. Racism clearly does not qualify.
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There’s an easy way for even the most tribal and anti-assimilationist Jew to grasp the utter acceptability of the behavior of the controversial Israeli organization Lehava. The group put out a public call for demonstrators to disrupt the scheduled wedding party of a young Jaffa couple -- Mahmoud Mansour and Morel Malka- a Muslim man and a Jewish woman who converted to Islam for her marriage. Some 200 came carrying signs armed with loudspeakers to register their disapproval.
All one needs to do is imagine how Jews around the world would react if something similar took place in Europe - let’s say, in Germany. What if a neo-Nazi group took to Facebook to assemble crowds to wave signs and scream slogans to disturb a party celebrating the union of a Jewish man and a bride who had converted to Judaism and send a message that their union is an "abomination?"
No matter what one’s personal opinion is on conversion or intermarriage, such ugliness is both vile and dangerous.
Luckily, there has been a silver lining on the unattractive cloud of the Lehava campaign to crash the party. The lining takes the form of the support of the wedding hall, which has resisted threats of boycotts if it allowed the celebration to take place undisturbed, as well the thousands of Israelis who have stood up publicly to defend Mahmoud and Morel’s right to pursue happiness. The couple itself has shown admirable steadfastness and unwillingness to bend to the threats and cancel their party.
But the brightest spark of light in the darkness showed up on the eve of the wedding in the form of a Facebook post by Israel’s president. Though clearly no fan of the union, President Reuven Rivlin deserves credit for speaking strongly against the racist attacks on the couple’s right to marry and celebrate, wishing them “health, comfort and happiness.”
Rivlin wrote: “a red line exists between freedom of speech and protest and incitement. Mahmoud and Morel from Yafo decided to marry in freedom in a democratic state. The incitement against them is outrageous and disconcerting, regardless of my own stance or the stance of others. Not everyone needs to celebrate alongside Mahmoud and Morel, but we all must show them respect. We have within and among us difficult and profound disagreements, but incitement, violence and discrimination have no place in Israeli society. Expressions like this erode the foundations of our coexistence here in Israel.”
A clear declaration like Rivlin’s has been long overdue at a time of extremely upsetting deterioration in Arab-Jewish coexistence in Israel over the course of Operation Protective Edge. It is this atmosphere that seems to have emboldened Lehava, whose name is an acronym for ‘Preventing Assimilation in the Holy Land’. The group is far from new on the scene. For years it has been harassing young Arabs and Jews who dare to date, fall in love and marry - embarking on controversial campaigns that include issue “kosher certificates” to businesses that don’t employ Arabs and pressuring those who do, calling the workplace a dangerous potential venue for Arab-Jewish relationships. It also positions itself as a group that "rescues" Jewish women from relationships with Arab men - a 2011 investigative piece in Haaretz detailed these activities and revealed how the organization was indirectly funded by the state.
Occasionally, Lehava’s scare campaigns - which led to Facebook removing their presence on the site (they keep creating new pages) featured the gimmick of creating invitations to fictional Arab-Jewish weddings.
Now they have moved on to the real thing - targeting the Jaffa couple that has dated for five years, before Morel converted to Islam and they married in a Muslim service. After the couple went to court asking to block the demonstration, the court ruled Sunday that the protest can take place, but at least 200 meters away from the wedding hall - and forbid the group from making direct contact with the couple and her family.
Hopefully, this will be sufficient to allow Morel and Mahmoud to celebrate in peace. As Rivlin - who is clearly no bleeding heart or major fan of intermarriage - stated, this is their right.
What would make it truly an event to celebrate would be this: if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a page out of Rivlin’s book and publicly wished them well.
So far, Netanyahu has remained disturbingly silent on the wave of racism washing over the Israeli public this summer. And he, of all people, should know that love doesn’t always restrict itself within the walls of religion - his ex-wife, Fleur, converted to Judaism and his son Yair has famously dated a non-Jew.
A "mazel tov" for Mahmoud and Morel from the prime minister would go a long way.