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Condemning a Racist Statement

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.



2 Comments

  1. Perhaps you should re-read that link again:

    “We, rabbis of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, oppose interfaith marriages…”

    Comment by Dave — January 8, 2011 @ 10:17 pm

  2. It’s unfortunate that JOI doesn’t do more research on an issue before offering such a strong opinion on its blog. For anyone who cares to look into the matter, there is a very serious issue in Israel where thousands - yes, thousands - of young Jewish women have been charmed by Arab men and then brought to Arab villages where many are not heard from again. From those who have escaped, we know that they are often beaten, treated practically like slaves, etc. (and the fact that this may not be true of every relationship between an Arab man and Jewish woman in Israel is beside the point - because it is so widespread, it is a huge problem)

    This really isn’t about intermarriage at all, in the American Jewish sense of the term. It’s about human rights, human dignity, and the treatment of women - all issues that JOI should be rallying behind rather than mocking.

    One need look no further than the Rebbitzins’ actual statement to affirm that this is really about protecting women from abuse rather than assimilation. You will notice they are only urging Jewish women to stay away from Arab men. They say nothing about Jewish men staying away from Arab women. The reason is obvious - they are not concerned about assimilation per se (when was the last time you heard even the most rabidly anti-intermarriage American Rabbi saying that only one gender, but not the other, should refrain from relationships with non-Jews). Please do your homework next time. This is a human rights issue, and by carelessly glossing over that, you are further marginalizing the many Jewish women who already have suffered tragic abuse.

    Comment by Harold — January 10, 2011 @ 7:10 am

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