Ariel Zirulnick
The Christian Science Monitor
January 6, 2011 - 1:00am

Rabbis' wives: Don't date Arab men

A group of rabbis' wives penned a letter Dec. 29 urging Jewish women "not to date Arab men, not to work in places where Arabs are employed and not to volunteer for national service with them," the Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday.

The rebbetzins' letter states, "There are quite a few Arab workers who give themselves Hebrew names.... They ask to be close to you, try to find favor with you, and give you all the attention in world, they are actually here knowing to act with courtesy, acting as if they really care for you, say a good word, but their behavior is only temporary. The moment you are in their hands, in their village, under their control, everything changes."

"Your life will never go back to the way it was, and the attention you so desired will turn into curses, beatings, and humiliations," the letter warns.

The people responsible for the letter say that its goal is to prevent assimilation and romantic relationships between Jewish women and Arab men, according to Ynet News. The letter was distributed by an organization named Lehava, which works against intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews.

"The problem is religious, not racist. If my son were to decide to marry an Arab woman who converted, I wouldn't have a problem with that," said Bentzi Gopstein, a senior member of Lehava, according to Ynet.

Rabbis: Don't rent to Arabs

Earlier this month, dozens of rabbis from all over Israel signed a religious ruling that forbids Jews from renting or selling real estate to Arabs. The men claim that the prohibition stems from a ban in the Torah on land transactions with "foreigners" living in Israel, the Monitor reported.

"Their way of life is different from ours, and our oppressors are among them," the statement says.

The religious opinion reflects a confluence of several related trends: growing alienation between Jews and the country's one-fifth Arab minority, a shift of public sentiment toward ultra-nationalist political parties, and growing radicalization among the leaders of Israel's nationalist religious movement who challenge the secular foundations of the government.

Although several Jewish and Israeli institutions have come out against the letter – such as Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum authority – the number of prominent rabbis in Israel who have condemned it has been comparatively small. Many of the rabbis that signed the letter are state-employed municipal chief rabbis.

In Safed, a 'campaign of racism'

In Safed, a religious town in northern Israel, Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu called on residents not to rent or sell real estate to Arab students studying at the local college. The request was later formalized into a religious ruling, the Monitor reported.

Rabbinic signatories to the letter insisted that the legal opinion does not promote discrimination, but rather aims to protect Jews' hold on cities and the country from non-Jewish encroachment. They argued that in a case of a clash between the religious law and secular laws of the state, the former should prevail.

"According to the rabbi, this was self-defense – otherwise Arabs would gradually take over Safed, considered a holy Jewish city," the Monitor reported in a separate article.

According to the lsraeli newspaper Haaretz, Israel's Minority Affairs Ministry recently asked the Justice Ministry to suspend Eliyahu, accusing him of "conducting a campaign of racism against the Arabs for years" and warned that he could spark a "fire that could lead to war between the Jews and the Arabs of the Galilee."

A loyalty oath to a Jewish state

In October, the Israeli cabinet approved a bill that will require even non-Jews who wish to become Israeli citizens to pledge allegiance to Israel as a Jewish state. There was already a mandatory oath of loyalty – as is the norm in many countries – but now it will be amended to include the phrase "Jewish and democratic state," the Monitor reported.

The proposed law would have little practical impact, because there are few non-Jews seeking citizenship, but it is symbolic of an effort to delegitimize Arab Israeli citizens, some say.

Jaffar Farah, the director of the Israeli civil rights group Mossawa, noted that the bill would have little practical impact because family members of Israeli Arabs have been barred from becoming naturalized citizens under legislation passed during the height of the Palestinian uprising. Still, that doesn't ease the sense of injury.

"This is a dictatorship of the majority," he says. "We see this as part of the delegitimization campaign against our existence in Israel, which is led by the current government since it was established."

The fight over textbooks

Earlier this fall, Israel's education ministry told a principal at an Israeli high school to cease using a history textbook that gives both the Israeli and Palestinian sides of Arab-Israeli conflict. The textbook was banned from the national high school curriculum in 2009, the Monitor reported.

At the crux of the issue is the recounting of the 1948 war, known to Israelis as the War of Independence and to Palestinians and Israeli Arabs as the nakba, or "catastrophe." While Israelis say that Palestinians left their homes in present-day Israel voluntarily, Palestinians say that they were forced out. This textbook tells both of those versions. The inclusion of the word nakba in an Israeli textbook is problematic, said Education Minister Gideon Saar last year, because it undermines the legitimacy of Israel.

"No other country in the world, in its official curriculum, would treat the fact of its founding as a catastrophe," said Mr. Saar, reversing a 2007 decision amid a rising tide of nationalist sentiment in the government. "There is a difference between referring to specific tragedies that take place in a war – either against the Jewish or Arab population – as catastrophes, and referring to the creation of the state as a catastrophe."


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