In December 2010, an Israeli organization called Lehava, whose aim is to “save the daughters of Israel from assimilation,” revved up a racist campaign against intermarriage. Over the course of a few days, Lehava organized a rally in the town of Bat Yam as well as a issued a public letter signed by 30 wives of highly-regarded Orthodox rabbis calling for the separation of Jewish girls and Arab men. As reported in Haaretz, their xenophobic statement includes the following:
Don’t date non-Jews, don’t work in the places where there are non-Jews, and don’t perform national service with non-Jews…There are no few Arab workers who use a Hebrew name. Yusuf turns into Yossi, Samir turns into Sami and Abed turns into Ami. They seek your company, try to get you to like them and give you all the attention in the world. But as soon as you’re in their hands, in their village, under their control, everything changes.
The campaign particularly worries those of us at JOI due to its racist tone, calls for segregation and its attempt to connect daily interactions among Jews and Arabs with intermarriage and assimilation. Beyond the fact that intermarriage does not directly lead to assimilation, the language of the letter hearkens back to totalitarian rhetoric to which Jews themselves have also been subjected.
JOI is thankful there has been a resounding denunciation of Lehava’s message throughout the international Jewish community. Israel’s top Reform rabbi, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, has publicly criticized the letter, and 40 female Reform rabbis wrote in response, “We, rabbis of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism…consider professional and social contacts between us and all of Israel’s citizens and residents to be positive — regardless of race, religion or sex.”
We as Jews need to recognize that living in a free and open society means interacting with those around us. Some will date, some will marry, but trying to forcibly separate two people along lines of race or religion is an abominable display of our lowest aspirations. The Jewish community and the Jewish people are better than that. Let’s not create a world in which we are defined by segregation, bigotry, and exclusion. Instead we should respect the Torah’s oft repeated commandment to “welcome the stranger” and establish ourselves as an open and inclusive community that embraces all those in our midst.