Free Dartmouth
Interfaith Marriage Is Illegal In Israel?
12/09/2006 12:53:00 AM | Justin

Talk about creating second class citizens... Apparently it is illegal for jews to marry non-jews in Israel, just like it used to be illegal for blacks to marry whites in the US. Israel only recognizes those born to a jewish mother as jewish, while they recognize the 'right of return' to Israel for anyone who is at least 1/4 racially jewish, or has converted to judaism (although they're currently considering legislation to deny converts the right of return). This means there are 300000 Israeli jews who can't get married in their own country.

Admittedly, the analogy to past interracial marriage bans in the US is imperfect, because one can technically convert to Judaism while one cannot (usually) change skin color. However, conversion is supposedly quite difficult, and subject to rabbinical judgement. What's more, the economist argues in this week's issue that the motive for the ban on converts' right of return is probably to deny converts the opportunity to marry Israeli jews, and dilute the culture and bloodline.

There are already 300,000 Israeli jews (about 6% of the jewish population of Israel) who have qualified for citizenship through the right of return, but are denied all marriage rights, and have to go to Cyprus or some other country if they want to a reconignize marriage. Some are supposedly even converting to Islam so they can marry under the more lenient Sharia law in Israel. (Imagine that: Sharia law more lenient!)

Why deny converts the right of return? The fear seems to be that their numbers will continue to swell, increasing the scale of the injustice that denies so many Israeli jews the right to marry, eventually allowing them to wrest control over marriage from religious authorities, ultimately leading to a more secular country. In other words, marriage is 'under assault'. Sound familiar?

"In all the free world people can get a civil marriage. This is impossible in Israel. But civil marriages carried out abroad are recognised here – it's insane," -Zamira Segev, coordinator of the Forum for Freedom of Choice in Marriage.

Sounds a bit like what the US is going through now with gay marriage, doesn't it?

I'd link to the economist article, but unfortunately, you need a membership to access it. However, there's a reuters piece here that goes over some of the fact around the issue of interfaith marriage in Israel.

A common response to this sort of criticism of the state of Israel is to ask why the critic doesn't focus more attention on horrible human rights violations in the Islamic states of the Middle East. This point has some merit, but if you took a poll, I think you'd find a much greater awareness among americans about Islamic human rights violations than you would about Israeli human rights violations. Ask an American about Palestinian terrorism, they'll nod their head indignantly. Ask them about Palestinian dispossession, or Israeli second class citizens, and all you'll get is perplexity.

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