Among the public statements issued by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week were repeated claims about the strength of the country’s economy and adamant insistence the international community acknowledge Israel’s status as a “Jewish state.” But, what stood out most was a statement made by one of Netanyahu’s aides denying the Prime Minister’s 23-year-old son Yair was dating a 25-year-old woman from Norway. There is only one reason that, in 2014, Israel’s head of state would be required to respond to reports that his son is in a romantic relationship with another consenting adult: the woman in question is not Jewish.
In Israel, any Jewish person who dates a non-Jew is not only bucking serious social pressure to date within the community, but also heading toward direct collision with the state, which does not permit so-called mixed marriages. Naturally, a person with as much money and power as Yair Netanyahu can easily circumvent the legal hurdles put in place to prevent miscegenation. But as a symbol of the state, the younger Netanyahu’s personal choices will be scrutinized and excoriated when they butt up against the third rail of Israeli society: racial/religious segregation or “hafrada.”
In Israel, the only legally recognized wedding ceremonies are those approved by religious officials authorized by the state. For all of Israeli history, the power to determine who may marry and who may not has been held by a network of fundamentalist, ultra-Orthodox rabbis. When two Jews want to marry one another, they must apply to the rabbis in the city where they live, and prove their mothers were born Jewish and their mothers’ mothers were born Jewish.
If the bride or groom immigrated to Israel from another country, then a rabbi from the city they originated from must attest to the fact that they, and their mothers and their mothers’ mothers, were born Jewish. Only the word of certain rabbis is trusted, and the list of acceptable rabbis is very short.
If either the bride or groom is considered not to be Jewish enough, the rabbis do not allow the wedding to take place. In this way, these rabbis practice eugenic engineering, preserving bloodlines. For them, the system is also a financially lucrative monopoly. While by law they are prohibited from charging for their services – they already receive hefty salaries from the Israeli government to perform their work – many of them still charge couples for these “services.”
For the bride or groom who is considered to be “insufficiently Jewish,” he or she can apply to convert to Judaism. This is an arduous process, which requires one to live according to all the laws of Orthodox Judaism for a long period of time, and to be monitored throughout the process, and pass tests to prove unquestioning acceptance of all rabbinical rules.
Another option for mixed couples is to have a civil ceremony in a third country, and return to Israel with a marriage license in hand. This solution is only useful, however, for people who can afford the cost of traveling to and having a ceremony in another country. In these cases, it may take years for the non-Jewish partner to receive Israeli citizenship, thanks to government policies making it difficult for non-Jews to become citizens.
Under the Microscope of Miscegenation
Thanks to the cash and connections available through his father, Yair can bypass these barricades with relative ease, if he chooses to do so.
Indeed, it is difficult to have much sympathy for the younger Netanyahu who has been caught in the snare of racism even more virulent than his own. In 2011, Yair publicly revealed his hatred of Arabs and Palestinians. On his personal Facebook page, he called all Arabs “shits” and “sons of bitches” and called upon Jews not to patronize Arab-owned stores; he had himself already boycotted Arab businesses for some time.
Yair has yet to speak out against his father’s denial of the earlier statement attributed to him in which Yair revealed he was dating a Norwegian woman. By remaining silent, the son has confirmed his own belief that dating a non-Jewish person is something to be ashamed of. This is an insult to his girlfriend (or ex-girlfriend), her family, and anyone who is not Jewish.
It is, nevertheless, an unsurprising situation in Israel, as the domination of a young Jewish man’s sexuality by his father and patriarchs of Jewish culture, begins at a very young age, with the mutilation of the most sensitive part of the boy’s body when he is only a week old via circumcision. Many Jewish men allow their parents to determine what kind of person they can and cannot marry, even if it means, as it does in Yair’s case, publicly shaming their partner of choice.
This is less the case among Jewish communities outside Israel, where there are no legal restrictions on who Jews may marry. In the United States, for example, about fifty percent of American Jews marry non-Jews. Families with one Jewish parent are considered just as Jewish as they are non-Jewish. Reform Jews, who account for a majority of American Jews, support this perspective, but are shut out of power in Israel. Their tolerance for Jewish/non-Jewish marriages is probably the biggest reason for their lack of influence within Israeli society.
A History of Mixing
The propensity for Jewish people to marry partners from other ethnic groups is nothing new. What has changed throughout history, however, is the amount of power wielded by the self-appointed defenders of the Jewish genome.
As established by archaeological evidence, and critical analysis of biblical texts, during the time of the prophets, Israelites lived together with many other people in historical Palestine. Many families were ethnically mixed, and people practiced more than one spiritual path. There were Israelites who worshipped Yahweh and other gods and/or goddesses. There were other people who worshipped their own national gods and/or goddesses, and Yahweh as well. The fundamentalist Yahwists, who insisted on total fealty to Yahweh and who demanded Israelites be ethnically segregated from their non-Israelite neighbors, only amounted to between 10% and 15% of the population.
But, the fundamentalists and their ideological successors revised the Torah to determine which parts of the Israelite tradition would be passed down to future generations. They went on to author the Talmud (the Jewish New Testament), which has eclipsed the Old Testament’s authority. If many Torah stories that survived over the millennia are highly critical of inter-ethnic relationships, then the Talmud absolutely despises them. For centuries, rabbis punished Jews who dared to date non-Jews by dispatching goons to maim and torture Jewish partners. When Christians began to reject the dominance of the church, the Jews that lived among them also emancipated themselves from the rabbis’ rule, with the vast majority embracing this liberation.
Nevertheless, among so-called secular Jews in Israel today, marrying a non-Jewish person is still considered taboo. The ideology of political Zionism holds that as long as Jewish people are a minority, they will be physically unsafe and vulnerable to persecution. Zionism’s answer to this threat is to gather all Jews, or as many of them as possible, in one physical space, where they can band together for protection. According to this logic, in which fellow Jews are treated as brothers-in-arms and non-Jewish people are considered to be potential mortal enemies, the presence of a critical mass of non-Jewish people in Israel – whether Arab, Asian, African, other, or a combination of these – threatens Israeli Jews with extinction. To the paranoid Zionist, every mixed marriage and beautiful baby that results from Jewish unions with non-Jews could lead to another Hitler, another Holocaust.
A Racist Atmosphere Comes Home To Roost
In recent years, preventing peaceful coexistence and separating Jew from non-Jew has heightened to a fever pitch in Israel. The current Likud government is perhaps the most right-wing coalition in the country’s history. Racist reactionary forces are given free reign and permitted to consolidate their power. Consider just a few examples of what has happened since Netanyahu was re-elected in 2009:
– Although police say they do not know of even a single instance of an Arab or African man kidnapping a Jewish woman and holding her against her will, Likud lawmakers publicly claim there are a thousand cases of such abductions, using these manufactured stories to incite racial hatred and create an odious blood libel.
– Hundreds of chief rabbis issued a religious edict forbidding Jews from selling or even renting apartments to non-Jews. The rabbis were not punished, legally or otherwise, for their racist activities and continued to receive large salaries from the government. In fact, their budgets were substantially increased after the incident.
– A rabbi wrote a book permitting Jews to kill non-Jewish babies. One of the chief rabbis who issued the racist housing edict publicly endorsed the book. Instead of being charged with incitement to murder, the chief rabbi who endorsed the book was feted by government ministers and invited to deliver religious sermons to police recruits.
In this political atmosphere, any Jewish person who dates a non-Jew is considered by many Israelis to be a race-traitor, and treated accordingly. Not even the son of the prime minister is spared this hateful invective.
The furor surrounding Yair Netanyahu’s inter-religious romantic relationship will soon dissipate and fall from the newspaper headlines. But the drive, spearheaded by his father and the Likud party, to ensure Jewish ethnic purity in Israel will continue unabated. The elder Netanyahu will still demand the world acknowledges Israel’s “right” to be a “Jewish state,” despite the separateness and inequality this definition entails. If his son is forced to dump his new girlfriend because of her inferior chromosomal makeup, it will be a small price to pay for international acceptance of the Zionist endgame: a Jewish ethnocracy in the Holy Land.