Like Yair Netanyahu's 'Girlfriend,' Am I Israel's non-Jewish Enemy Within?

Non-Jews in the Jewish state are familiar with the vitriolic and bigoted responses of fanatics to Yair Netanyahu's on-off girlfriend: We are, apparently, the greatest threat facing Israel right now.

Deborah Black
Deborah Black
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Deborah Black
Deborah Black

If you want to know what the worst threat in the whole history of the Jews actually looks like, you should meet my son Eli.

He’s 16. He’s a good student. He’s excellent at maths and chemistry. He does a lot of sports. He’s a guide in the scouts and his dream when he reaches 18 is to be in the 'shayetet', the naval commandos.

Eli isn’t Jewish. Neither are his brothers, Tom, and Adam. Tom wants to be a pilot in the air force when he turns 18, though he’s worried about his eyesight. Adam is only 7, so he still just wants to be a ninja when he grows up.

So there you have it. These boys, according to Dr. Hagai Ben Artzi, speaking in the wake of reports that his nephew, Yair Netanyahu, the Prime Minister’s son, was dating a non-Jewish Norwegian girl, Sandra Leikanger, are the most threatening thing facing the Jews right now. Forget Iran, Syria, the boycott movement, Al Qaeda, the growing discrepancy between the rich and the poor, it’s these boys that are destroying Israel.

I came here 20 years ago. There was a large Arab population, but very few Christians trying to live within Israeli Jewish society. It was pretty awful to be honest. I felt vilified, alone, hated for no other reason than that I wasn’t Jewish and I’d done the unthinkable – I’d married a nice Jewish boy and deprived some nice Jewish girl of her rightful inheritance, polluting the Jewish race while I was at it.

There was a lot of name-calling in those days too, and I frequently read barbs like the current ones from Ben Artzi who described intermarriage as “the worst thing that is threatening,” and “a threat throughout the history of the Jews.” Or comments from ultra-orthodox Shas leader Arye Deri who said: “If God forbid it's true, then woe to us, woe to us.”

Sadly, instead of calling out these bigots, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu played into their hands. Rather than condemn these offensive remarks and give some protection to the 300,000 citizens of Israel who – like my sons – have uncertain Jewish roots, he issued a rebuttal, sending an official from his office to tell Deri that there is no romance, that the two "only study together".

Comments like this used to wound me to my heart. I felt rejected by the country I’d made such sacrifices to come and live in.

But then at some point, I stopped caring. After some years of living here, I realized that these fanatic, narrow-minded voices had nothing to do with my life. The Israel I live in is completely different. It is tolerant, liberal and welcoming. It has its issues without a doubt, but so does every country. That’s the Israel I know and that’s the Israel I’ve come to love.

Before my children were born, my husband and I worried about what it would be like for them growing up as non-Jews here. Would they be bullied, would they be outsiders, would they have difficulties at school, would they consider themselves truly Israeli?

Well, I can report to you that they’ve experienced none of those things so far. My boys are proud Israelis. They are good boys, lovely friends to their friends, willing students, and decent citizens who care about the people around them. They are Israeli through and through.

They know they aren’t considered Jewish by most sectors of society, but that doesn’t bother them. They celebrate all the Jewish holidays, and they celebrate Christmas too. They may not be allowed to get married here, an injustice that demeans Israel, but if you ask them which religion they belong to, they will say they are Jewish.

And what about me – the viper in the nest? No, I’m still not Jewish, but like my kids, I’m also a good citizen. I care about this country and I care about the people living here – enough to make it my job to support them. I’m an alternative voice, a voice that can span different worlds – the Christian one and the Jewish one, Europe and Israel - and it’s a voice Israel desperately needs.

I am also about to make the biggest sacrifice a mother can make – I’m going to send my three dearly loved sons to the army to fight. And some of the people they will be protecting are the very people who think my boys are destroying the Jewish race.

Am I really such a terrible destructive force for the country? Are my boys the worst threat in the history of the Jewish people? Of course not.

So, Sandra, whether you are romantically or academically involved, forget about these silly comments from a few prejudiced bigots who say Yair is ‘spitting on the grave of his grandfather and grandmother’, if you want to see the real face of intermarriage in Israel, come and meet my beautiful boys.

The names of the author and her children have been altered to safeguard the children's privacy.

Yair Netanyahu and Sandra Leikanger. Photo via Dagen.no

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