ISRAEL AND HALF-JEWISH PEOPLE
Many children and other descendants of intermarriage wonder if we are welcome in Israel–well, we are “half” welcome. This essay covers seven main topics about Israel on which half-Jewish people and people doing research on half-Jewish Israelis repeatedly question us:
(1) should half-Jewish people make aliyah (legal immigration to Israel)?;
(2) should half-Jewish people volunteer for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)?;
(3) should half-Jewish people participate in Birthright Israel trips and accept as accurate the information about Israel that they are given on these trips?;
(4) should half-Jewish people support Jewish groups fighting for the rights of half-Jewish people in Israel?
(5) should half-Jewish people learn about the historic roots of Israel’s discriminatory policies against half-Jewish people and interfaith couples and work to oppose those policies?
(6) what should researchers learn about Arab-Jewish intermarriages and their adult children and grandchildren in Israel and the Palestinian territories?
(7) should half-Jewish people participate in organizations working for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and for democracy and pluralism within Israel?
We urge you to read our entire essay below to learn more about the facts behind these questions, facts that we gathered mostly from Israeli Jewish newspapers.
You may find parts of the essay somewhat confusing. Bear in mind that we are describing Israeli policies regarding half-Jewish people that are discriminatory, inconsistent, complicated and change from year to year, so it is hard to explain them. We have tried to spell these policies out as clearly as possible.
We also try to update this essay whenever we get new information.
ALIYAH: WHAT IT MEANS, WHAT IT DOESN’T
ALERT No. 1: We currently advise half-Jewish people against making aliyah (permanent immigration) to Israel from other countries because of the poor treatment they receive, due to Israel’s web of negative social policies and laws that discriminate against us.
Born Jews, with two Jewish parents, who immigrate to Israel from the Diaspora (outside of Israel) are automatically considered Israeli Jewish citizens, unless they have officially converted to another religion. They become Israeli Jewish citizens under the decades-old “Law of Return.”
Unfortunately, the situation is very different for half-Jewish people.
There are two kinds of half-Jewish people in Israel — those born in the Diaspora (outside of Israel) and those born in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Let’s talk about those born outside of Israel first.
HALF-JEWISH PEOPLE PRACTICING OTHER FAITHS
A half-Jewish person who identifies as a Christian or a member of another faith other than Judaism and who was born in the Diaspora cannot make aliyah in the same way that half-Jewish people practicing Judaism can do.
A half-Jewish person practicing another faith can apply for Israeli citizenship as a non-Jew but the request may not be granted.
If the citizenship request of a half-Jewish person who practices a faith other than Judaism is granted, that half-Jewish person can immigrate to Israel, but will not receive the Israeli government help in making aliyah that a half-Jewish person who identifies as a Jew will receive.
A half-Jewish person practicing a faith other than Judaism will be considered a Christian Israeli or a member of another faith by the Israeli government, with no claim on Jewish identity, even though that person is an Israeli citizen.
HALF-JEWISH PEOPLE PRACTICING JUDAISM
Half-Jewish people who are the children or grandchildren of either a Jewish father or a Jewish mother, and who identify as Jews, may make aliyah to Israel under the Law of Return and become Israeli citizens. They will receive help from the Israeli government. However, once they arrive in Israel, the situation becomes complicated.
STATE AND RELIGION NOT SEPARATE IN ISRAEL
A half-Jewish person who practices Judaism and immigrates to Israel as an adult, intending to become an Israeli Jewish citizen, is entering a situation in which Jewish and other religious identity and citizenship issues are under the joint control of the Israeli Jewish secular government and the Orthodox Jewish rabbis.
Half-Jewish people who have grown up in Western democracies where there is some legal separation of the church and the state should understand that Israel is very different.
ORTHODOX JUDAISM SPONSORED BY ISRAELI STATE
Orthodox Judaism is the only fully-recognized form of Judaism in Israel. Only Orthodox rituals (marriages, conversions, burials) performed in Israel are fully recognized as legal by the Israeli government. The Israeli government also gives huge amounts of money to the Orthodox synagogues and schools in Israel.
The Israeli government gives very little money to non-Orthodox Jewish groups ( Conservative/Masorti), Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, and Humanistic Judaism, etc.) in Israel. While the non-Orthodox movements are growing in Israel, the marriages, conversions, and other ceremonies that the non-Orthodox Jewish movements perform in Israel are not recognized as legally binding by the Israeli government.
Ironically, non-Orthodox conversions, marriages, etc., performed outside of Israel (such as a Reform Jewish conversion performed in the United States) are legally recognized in Israel.
IF THE UNITED STATES HAD ONE RECOGNIZED RELIGION
If this situation existed in the United States today, the United States would be an officially “Christian” country, and would recognize only Roman Catholics as “real” Christians. Only Roman Catholic weddings, burials, conversions, and baptisms would be accepted as legally binding for Christians by theU.S. government.
The United States would give Roman Catholic schools and churches millions of dollars annually. Other Christian denominations (Protestants, Greek Orthodox, etc.) would receive only tiny amounts of money from the government for their schools and churches, and their life cycle ceremonies would not be recognized as legally binding.
At the same time, the United States would legally recognize non-Catholic (Protestant, Greek Orthodox, etc.) life cycle ceremonies — marriages, conversions, etc. — performed outside of the United States.
The United States would also legally recognize life cycle ceremonies performed by clergy of non-Christian faiths (Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, etc.), whether they were performed in the United States or abroad.
The United States would not have legally binding civil (non-religious) life cycle ceremonies, such as weddings performed by judges, for most citizens. A legal option would exist for couples to enter a common law marriage, where they would have some, but not all, of the rights of a married couple.
A civil unions law would exist that restricted civil marriages to a minority of citizens who were not affiliated with any religious community. These citizens would first have to prove to a board of Roman Catholic priests that they had no religion and get a certificate stating this and allowing them to have a civil ceremony.
Having “no religion” would not be a matter of belief, but a matter of ancestry. Peoples’ religion would be determined by the religion of their parents or grandparents, even if they themselves were atheists or agnostics.
In actual practice, few U.S. citizens would be able to obtain civil ceremony certification as being of “no religion” except for a minority of “patrilineal half-Christian” people who had a Christian father and a non-Christian mother. All life cycle ceremonies for everyone else would have to be performed by clergy of some faith.
INTERMARRIAGES IN ISRAEL
Interfaith couples who were married overseas before their arrival in Israel are automatically recognized as legally married by the Israeli government. However, intermarriages cannot be performed legally in Israel itself.
If a Jew and a Christian or a Jew and a Muslim fall in love in Israel, one of them must convert to the other’s religion in order to have a legally binding Jewish, Muslim, or Christian religious wedding.
If neither member of a Jewish-Christian or Jewish-Muslim interfaith couple in Israel wants to convert to the other spouse’s religion, they cannot have a legally binding wedding ceremony in Israel performed by clergy of any faith.
An interfaith couple cannot seek out a judge and have a civil wedding ceremony in Israel, because Israeli law permits legally binding civil weddings only for couples who do not belong to any religious culture — all other weddings must be performed by clergy of some faith.
Determinations of who has “no religion” and is therefore entitled to a civil ceremony are made by Orthodox Jewish rabbis, who issue a certificate to couples seeking this type of marriage. People are not seen as having “no religion” because they are atheists or agnostics. Instead, as we currently understand this, people’s ‘religion’ is determined on the basis of their parents’ or grandparents’ religious beliefs and ancestry.
For example, Israeli Jews and Jews from the Diaspora are determined to be Jews and denied civil marriage if they have a biological Jewish mother. They must be married by an Orthodox Jewish rabbi if they wish to be legally married in an Israeli Jewish ceremony. Their own belief systems, even if they are atheists or agnostics, are not considered.
At the present time, civil weddings are not available to atheists or agnostic Jews, Christians or Muslims, because if they have two Jewish, two Christian or two Muslim parents, they are considered members of those faith-based communities and must have clergy for their weddings even if they are atheists or agnostics.
The civil wedding option in actual practice is available only for a tiny minority of people, including some patrilineal half-Jewish people who want to marry other patrilineal half-Jewish people. See “Patrilineal Half-Jewish People in Israel” below.
If an interfaith couple rules out having one spouse convert to the other spouse’s faith, and still wants to get married, they must leave Israel temporarily, and get married in a ceremony in another country.
Many couples who cannot marry legally in Israel often chose to have civil marriage ceremonies in Cyprus. When an interfaith couple returns to Israel after a marriage ceremony in another country, the Israeli government does legally recognize their marriage.
Non-Orthodox Israeli rabbis and Israeli kibbutzim — secular farming or industrial communities which hold property communally — do perform wedding and other life cycle ceremonies in Israel, but these weddings are not legally recognized by the Israeli government.
Many Israeli Jewish couples are so disgusted with the requirement that they must be married in a religious ceremony conducted by an Orthodox Jewish rabbi that they opt to cohabit without marriage and can obtain, as we currently understand it, some legal recognition as a common law marriage.
ISLAM AND INTERMARRIAGE IN ISRAEL
Our current understanding of Sharia (Islamic religious law) indicates that Muslim men are legally allowed to intermarry under Islamic law, but Muslim women are not. However, we have seen several reports indicating that there are Palestinian Muslim women involved with Jewish men in Israel and in the United States.
Current anecdotal evidence indicates that some Jewish, Christian and Muslim Israeli communities are tolerant of interfaith families in Israel, but others are not. In the past, Palestinian Arab communities have reportedly been more tolerant of these families than Israeli Jewish communities.
However, we have heard stories indicating that Palestinian communities are becoming less friendly to these families as Israel’s relationships with Israeli Arabs and Palestinian Arabs continue to deteriorate.
How does this complex web of laws, rules and social circumstances affect adult children and other descendants of intermarriage living in Israel?
WHO IS A JEW?
Half-Jewish people who have made aliyah and become Israeli Jewish citizens soon discover that there is a caste system, thanks to Orthodox religious law (halacha), which determines “who is a Jew.”
Half-Jewish people with paperwork proving that they had a biological Jewish mother and who practice only Judasim are considered ‘real’ Jews under Israeli secular and religious law. They are, in our words, “matrilineal Jews.”
Half-Jewish people with paperwork proving that they had a biological Jewish father and who practice only Judaism — in our words, “patrilineal Jews” — are not considered ‘real’ Jews under Israeli secular and religious law. They fall into an in-between category of “non-halachic Jews” or “non-Jews.”
How does this caste system work out in daily life?
MATRILINEAL HALF-JEWISH PEOPLE IN ISRAEL
Matrilineal half-Jewish people (your biological mother was Jewish and your biological father was not Jewish) who make aliyah as adults — or are born to interfaith Israeli couples — and who practice Judaism, but not another faith — are considered to be fully Jewish, and are supposed to have the same rights as any other born Jews (Jews with two biological Jewish parents) who are citizens of Israel.
But while some matrilineal Jews report being heartily welcomed by secular and Orthodox Israeli groups, others experience some social discrimination and harassment — ridicule and other negative experiences — in some segments of Israeli society, both secular and Orthodox, for having a non-Jewish father.
If they make aliyah, they will be expected to produce paperwork proving that their biological mother was Jewish. It seems that every year the demands for paperwork ‘proof’ escalate and become more complex.
They report being asked foolish questions about having non-Jewish fathers. Some report that despite being Jewish according to Orthodox law and Israeli civil law, they face unpleasant comments and acts of discrimination against them, while other matrilineals have comfortable and pleasant lives.
NOT ALL MATRILINEALS CONSIDERED JEWISH
Many matrilineal Jews living outside of Israel who want to make aliyah or be considered Jewish by Israel are not aware the there is a continuing disagreement between Israeli Orthodox rabbinic courts and Israeli secular law courts on whether all matrilineal Jews are ‘real’ Jews.
There are secular laws and Israeli court rulings which hold that a matrilineal half-Jewish person who practices another faith instead of Judaism — or who is descended from a biological maternal Jewish grandmother or biological Jewish mother who converted to another faith — is no longer Jewish, even if that matrilineal half-Jewish person currently identifies as a Jew and practices only Judaism.
In such situations, matrilineal half-Jewish people who are the children or grandchildren of mothers and maternal grandmothers who converted to other faiths have been denied Israeli Jewish citizenship by Israeli secular courts, while Israeli Orthodox rabbinic courts have been willing to acknowledge them as Jews who are the descendants of apostate Jews, but who have returned to Judaism.
The Israeli Orthodox rabbinic courts have usually been overruled by the Israeli secular courts in these cases.
In practical terms, this has led to matrilineals being denied Israeli Jewish citizenship by the Israeli secular courts, despite the protests of Orthodox rabbinical courts. Such matrilineal half-Jewish people have apparently been told that they must formally convert to Judaism.
The Israeli Jewish secular courts apply similar standards to Jews with two Jewish parents who grew up outside of Israel. If their mothers or grandmothers converted to another faith, such as Christianity, and then raised these Jews in another faith, these Jews may be considered no longer Jewish unless they start practicing Judaism again. They may be denied aliyah by Israeli secular courts. It is not clear to us if they are required to convert back to Judaism.
Also, Jews with two biological Jewish parents, who were raised as Jews outside of Israel, and who then convert to other faiths, may be considered no longer Jewish and will then be denied aliyah.
Jews with two biological Jewish parents who live in the Diaspora and convert to another faith cannot use the regular aliyah process and will not receive help in making aliyah from the Israeli government. They can apply to become non-Jewish citizens of Israel. They may be denied Israeli citizenship.
In one instance that we are aware of, a Jewish Israeli woman grew up in Israel as a Jew with her Diaspora Jewish parents. As an adult, she married a German Christian, became a German citizen, converted to Christianity and renounced her Israeli Jewish citizenship. Years later, after a divorce, she wished to return to Israel, resume Jewish practice, and reclaim her Israeli Jewish citizenship. An Israeli secular court denied her petition, even though Orthodox Jewish rabbis stated that she should be viewed as a repentant Jewish apostate.
PATRILINEAL HALF-JEWISH PEOPLE IN ISRAEL
For patrilineals making aliyah as adults, or who are born to Israeli interfaith couples, the situation is even more complex. Patrilineal half-Jewish people (your biological father was Jewish, his father or mother was Jewish, etc., and your biological mother was not Jewish) who identify as Jews are considered secular “non-Jews” or ”of no religion” with a Jewish father or as “non-halachic Jews” (Jews who are not really Jewish according to Orthodox religious law or halacha).
Patrilineal half-Jewish people who identify as Jews and practice Judaism are legally eligible for aliyah. They are required serve in the Israeli army, vote, and pay taxes, the same as the matrilineal Jews.
Israeli secular courts and the immigration bureaucracy recognize patrilineal Jews as Jews for secular purposes, such as taxation, army service, and citizenship, but often defer to Orthodox rabbinic courts on whether a patrilineal half-Jewish person is a ‘real’ Jew.
But the Orthodox rabbinate will not recognize patrilineals as Jews — even if their personal belief system and self-identification are Jewish — unless they formally convert to Judaism via Orthodox ritual. The code words that Israeli newspapers use for them are “non-Jews” or “non-halachic Jews.”
To complicate matters still further, some of the non-Orthodox Jewish movements in Israel (Israeli Jewish Reform and Conservative /Masorti) agree with the Orthodox in not recognizing patrilineal descent. Their stand breaks with the U.S. Reform and British Liberal Judaism movements on that issue.
Since only Orthodox rabbis can perform legally binding Jewish weddings, conversion and burial ceremonies in Israel, it means that a patrilineal half-Jewish person who identifies as a Jew, but who does not have an Orthodox conversion, may have obligations to the Israeli state — taxes, IDF service, etc. — but will be denied pastoral services that are basic human rights such as the right to marry other Jews and the right to burial in a Jewish cemetery.
This discrimination is the reason why patrilineal Jews are known within Israel by the insulting slang term “Psuley Hitun” (forbidden to marry).
Patrilineal Jews who have not had Orthodox conversions, and who wish to marry a matrilineal Jew or a Jew with two Jewish parents, must either go to another country to legally marry that person and then return to Israel, or simply live with their lover in Israel in a legal common law marriage arrangement without the full benefits of legal marriage.
The Israeli Knesset recently passed a law that allows people of “no religion” to have civil wedding ceremonies. This allows patrilineal half-Jewish people who identify as Jews, and who want to marry other patrilineal half-Jewish people who identify as Jews, to do so in civil ceremonies.
Everyone else in Israel is recognized as Jewish, Christian, Muslim, etc., while patrilineal half-Jewish people who have not had an Orthodox Jewish conversion — but who identify as Jews — are regarded as “not Jewish” or as “non-halachic Jews,” and so are considered to have “no religion,” even if they believe in God and are devout Jews.
Ironically, even though some Israeli matrilineal half-Jewish people and Jews with two Jewish parents truly have “no religion” — they are atheists or agnostics — they cannot have civil weddings because their parentage makes them legal Jews.
However, since many patrilineals often want to marry Israeli half-Jewish people with a Jewish mother or two Jewish parents, they usually cannot use the civil marriage option, because Jews with a Jewish mother or two Jewish parents are considered authentic Jews who are allowed to legally marry only with an Orthodox rabbi, who will not preside over a ceremony marrying them to a patrilineal half-Jewish person.
And some patrilineals do not want a civil ceremony in Israel. They want a regular Jewish wedding. One young Russian Jewish couple in Israel was unable to marry legally in a regular Jewish wedding ceremony. Both of them had three Jewish grandparents, but their fourth grandparent — their mother’s mother — was a Russian Christian. So they were considered to be non-halachic Jews or non-Jews because even though they were seven-eighths Jewish by ancestry, they are patrilineal grandchildren of intermarriage.
They apparently did not want to travel to Cyprus for a wedding ceremony or undergo Orthodox conversions.
They chose to marry in a Jewish wedding ceremony that they themselves created, but it is not recognized by the Israeli state:
Another example of the problems of patrilineal half-Jewish people in Israel occurred in 1998, when two Israeli toddlers, Thomas Rodnocko, 3, and his brother, Ya’akov, 2, were killed in a fire. The two little boys were buried just outside of the Ashkelon Jewish cemetery’s borders because their mother’s mother — their grandmother — wasn’t Jewish.
We are aware of only two secular cemeteries anywhere in Israel, and they did not exist when the Rodnocko boys died. At the present time, other patrilineal half-Jewish people who identify as Jews continue to be buried just ‘outside’ of Jewish cemeteries.
FILM ABOUT PATRILINEAL HALF-JEWISH PEOPLE IN ISRAEL
“A Green Chariot” describes the difficulties encountered in Israel by the patrilineal grandchild of an intermarriage, a Russian who identifies as an Orthodox Jew, who discovers as a young man that his maternal grandmother was not Jewish and his family hid this from him.
He learns that under Israeli secular and religious law he is no longer a Jew, and he loses his Israeli Orthodox Jewish fiancee.
As a “non-Jew” or “non-halachic Jew” of mixed descent he will lose several basic civil rights because of this status, including the right to be buried in Jewish cemeteries, or marry, within Israel, other Israeli Jews who have a Jewish mother or two Jewish parents.
The trailer is in Hebrew with English subtitles, so anyone who does not read or speak Hebrew, but can speak English will be able to follow what is going on:
The film is fiction but based on literally thousands of stories of half-Jewish people in Israel.
ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES AND HALF-JEWISH PEOPLE
ALERT No. 2: We also currently advise half-Jewish people from other countries not to volunteer for service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) due to Israeli laws and policies against half-Jewish people that the IDF is increasingly forced to comply with, against the will of its senior commanders.
The IDF has always opposed discrimination against half-Jewish people and tried to treat them fairly, but the IDF is increasingly being forced by the Israeli government and Orthodox religious groups to discriminate against half-Jewish people.
For example, patrilineal half-Jewish people who die while serving in the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) and who have not had Orthodox Jewish conversions, but identify as Jews, are buried in the “non-Jewish” section of IDF cemeteries with the Christian and Druze Muslim soldiers.
A second example — the IDF, in desperation, organized voluntary Orthodox conversion classes for half-Jewish soldiers with a Jewish father, in hopes that the conversions would make these soldiers accepted as Jews in Israeli society. This was a kindly and respectful attempt to assist these soldiers in dealing with the discrimination that they face in Israeli society.
But segments of the Orthodox religious establishment have refused to accept the validity of these IDF conversions. And some half-Jewish soldiers are reluctant to sign up for these classes, for fear that other soldiers will find out that they are patrilineal Jews.
We are also aware of situations in which the IDF has tried to get Jewish-identified half-Jewish soldiers who died during their IDF service buried in the Jewish sections of IDF cemeteries, only to be forced to back down by the Orthodox rabbis who control those cemeteries. The Orthodox rabbis then insisted that these soldiers be buried in the “non-Jewish” sections of those cemeteries where Christian and Muslim IDF soldiers are buried.
LEGAL HARASSMENT OF INTERFAITH COUPLES
We hear a growing number of stories about some Israeli interfaith couples and their Israeli-born children of intermarriage experiencing unusual legal trouble with the Israeli government, in instances where the non-Jewish spouse has immigrated to Israel from another country.
The harassment includes attempts to deport the non-Jewish spouse and the half-Jewish children, if the non-Jewish spouse’s passport is not in order or he or she is an illegal immigrant, etc., and the number of these reports has grown steadily.
In some instances, the non-Jewish spouse has tried for years to get his or her immigration status and that of his or her half-Jewish children regularized, and the immigration bureaucracy has deliberately delayed the paperwork, opening the way to having the non-Jewish spouse and half-Jewish children deported.
It is clear to us that these intermarried couples and their adult half-Jewish children and grandchildren are being singled out for legal harassment in ways that couples composed of two Jews, both of whom have two Jewish parents, where one Jew made aliyah and one is Israeli-born, are not singled out for harassment.
These legal attacks on interfaith Israeli families are sometimes justified by Israeli immigration bureaucrats as necessary to –- in the words of one immigration official –- preserve “the purity of [Jewish] blood,” a chillingly xenophobic outlook.
We know of at least one interfaith couple in Israel where the Jewish partner was dying of cancer, and he and his female Filipino lover opted to spend their limited time and money during the last year of his life fighting to have their baby half-Jewish son acknowledged as an Israeli citizen rather than spend the money on a flight to Cyprus to get legally married.
After the Jewish man died, the Israeli immigration bureaucracy tried to deport the woman and her baby son, declaring them not eligible to be citizens of Israel. We do not know the outcome of the case.
WHAT DO OTHER FAITH-BASED CULTURES SAY?
Christianity does not define the religion of the child by the ancestry of one of the parents.
It is our present understanding that in Islam the religion of the child is determined by the religion of the father, if the family follows Sharia, the Islamic religious law.
This means that children of a Muslim father and a Jewish mother are considered Muslim by Islam, and Jewish by Israeli Orthodox, Conservative/Masorti and Reform Judaism movements and the Israeli state. Patrilineal children — Jewish father, Muslim mother — would be considered neither Jewish nor Muslim.
HOW DO ISRAELI-BORN HALF-JEWISH PEOPLE IDENTIFY?
Some Israeli-born half-Jewish people identify as Jews, including patrilineal half-Jewish people who have not had Orthodox conversions, but who insist on being treated as Jews despite the Israeli Orthodox rabbinate’s refusal to recognize them or provide services for them.
Just as there are patrilineal Jews born in Israel who do identify as Jews, despite the refusal of the Orthodox Jewish establishment to recognize them, there are also matrilineal Jews born in Israel who do not identify as Jews, even though they are automatically recognized as Jews by both the Orthodox rabbinate and the Israeli state if they practice Judaism.
These matrilineal Jews instead follow the religion and/or culture of their other parent and identify as Christian, Muslim, etc. The same is true for some patrilineals.
ISRAELI-BORN HALF-JEWISH PEOPLE AND THE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT
Supposedly, the adult children of Israeli Jewish-Palestinian Arab intermarriages are not required or allowed to serve in the Israeli army. However, we have seen several reports of Jewish-identified adult children of these intermarriages volunteering and being accepted to serve in the Israeli armed forces.
For example, one son of an Israeli Jewish woman and a Palestinian Muslim man, raised as a Palestinian Muslim with an Arab name, left the Palestinian areas with his mother as a teenager, shortly before the most recent Palestinian intifada (revolt against the Israeli Jews), took a Hebrew name, became an Israeli Jewish citizen, and joined the Israeli army.
We have also seen reports about adult children of Israeli Jewish-Palestinian Arab intermarriages who side with the Palestinian Arab “half” of the family in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and become active political advocates for separate Palestinian and Israeli states.
One example was the adult child of a Jewish Orthodox Israeli mother and a Palestinian Muslim father, who was brought up as a Palestinian Muslim. When the area where his family lived was periodically cut off from Israeli by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, his family remained in touch with his Orthodox Jewish grandmother by telephone.
As an adult he identified as a Palestinian Muslim, and apparently joined the Palestinian resistance. He spent years in Israeli prisons, where he learned Hebrew and interceded for his fellow Palestinian prisoners with the Israeli authorities.
After being released from prison, he became an accountant and an advocate for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He continued to identify as a Palestinian Muslim, and expressed the hope that he could help start a joint Israeli-Palestinian Chamber of Commerce some day.
We have also heard rumors about another child of a Jewish Israeli-Palestinian Arab intermarriage who engaged in violence against Israel, but we have not been able to verify this story.
While the Israeli government avoids keeping statistics on Jewish-Arab intermarriages, it has stated in Knesset (Parliament) hearings that an estimated 20,000 or more of them exist, mostly Israeli Jewish women married to Palestinian Muslim and Christian men. Israeli media has recently suggested that the number of these intermarriages is closer to 30,000.
We have seen one report indicating that areas with high numbers of Jewish-Arab intermarriages are the most peaceful areas of Israel. But the Knesset (Parliament) held “Jewish Identity Day” hearings in 2011 and one hearing discussed how to prevent such intermarriages on the grounds that they dilute Jewish identity.
Most half-Jewish people in Israeli who have a Muslim or Christian Palestinian parent appear to keep a low profile for understandable reasons. Some of the personal and political difficulties they experience are visible in the life of Israeli movie star Juliano Mer-Khamis, son of an Israeli Jewish mother and a Palestinian Christian father.
Mer-Khamis began his adult life by joining the Israeli Defense Forces and apparently identifying as a Jew. Later, Mer-Khamis became a successful movie star, playing both Jewish and Arab roles. He came to side with the Palestinians and began working for peace, while continuing to act in movies. Mer-Khamis spent much of his life traveling between Haifa in Israel and Jenin in the Palestinian West Bank.
He and his Jewish mother created a young adults theater on the Palestinian West Bank, called the “Freedom Theater.” Mer-Khamis’s mother received a peace award for her work shortly before her death. Mer-Khamis and his mother spoke out against violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians and tried to discourage young Palestinians from engaging in suicide bombings.
Mer-Khamis grew increasingly angry with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and spoke openly about the state of Israel being built upon land taken from the Palestinians. Mer-Khamis had enemies among both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims.
In 2009, he described himself during an interview with Israel’s army radio as “I am 100 percent Palestinian and 100 percent Jewish.”
When the theater was destroyed during an Israeli attack, Mer-Khamis returned to the Palestinian West Bank and created a new theater for young people. Unfortunately, Mer-Khamis decided to stage a late 19th century German experimental play that spoke bluntly about teenagers’ sexual problems. This drew the attention of traditionalist Muslim Palestinians, and Mer-Khamis was shot to death by them in Jenin in 2011.
Mer-Khamis leaves behind him a Jewish ex-spouse and daughter, and a widow of Finnish Christian descent and three young children by that marriage.
While members of the Half-Jewish Network might not agree with every political position Mer-Khamis endorsed, as a half-Jewish person his courage and advocacy for peace are honored by us. Here is some more information about him:
Some half-Jewish people, especially those making aliyah to Israel, seek out Orthodox conversions abroad or in Israel as the best solution to our ambiguous legal status in Israel.
However, there are widespread complaints that Orthodox conversions are being deliberately made difficult by the Israeli Orthodox rabbinate in many instances for members of interfaith families, apparently in the hope that they will drop out of the conversion process.
The attitudes of Orthodox rabbis in the Diaspora (outside Israel) vary widely. Some Orthodox rabbis willingly instruct half-Jewish converts and assist them in making aliyah; others will not.
Now, where conversions can be politically advantageous to the Israeli Orthodox community, conversions within Israel are said to be hastened — when some — not all — centuries-old communities of “lost” Jews coming in from Asia and other countries arrive in Israel.
Some of these “lost” Jewish communities seem to be getting fast track conversions, apparently because they are likely to live as Orthodox Jews after conversion and vote for political parties favored by the Orthodox.
Whereas many Russian Jewish interfaith families and Ethiopian Jews, where their ancestry has been questioned, have reported long conversion processes and major obstacles placed in their way, even when they sincerely want to live as Orthodox Jews.
Apparently some Orthodox groups suspect that these Russian Jewish interfaith families and some Ethiopian Jews may return to being secular Jews after conversion or may perhaps join other non-Orthodox religious and political groups after conversion.
HALF-JEWISH PEOPLE AND BIRTHRIGHT ISRAEL TRIPS
ALERT No. 3: We currently advise half-Jewish people wishing to visit Israel on Birthright Israel trips to be very cautious about believing all of the information that they are given about Israel on those trips. Half-Jewish people are often told on these trips that all segments of Israeli society welcome them. This simply isn’t true.
The Half-Jewish Network is often asked about Birthright Israel (Taglit Israel) trips, which are ten-day group trips to Israel offered free of charge to young Jewish adults between the ages of 18 to 26. We are frequently asked: “I’m an adult child (or grandchild) of intermarriage. Should I go on a Birthright Israel trip? Will I be welcomed? What kind of experiences will I have?”
Birthright Israel definitely accepts some adult children of intermarriage on its trips, but only if they are Jewish-identified. Their stated policy on half-Jewish people is:
“Jewish Heritage — Eligible individuals are those recognized as Jewish by their local Jewish community or by one of the recognized denominations of Judaism. Applicants must also have at least one Jewish birth parent, or have completed Jewish conversion through a recognized Jewish denomination, and identify as Jewish while not actively practicing another religion. Those applying from the Former Soviet Union are eligible if they have at least one Jewish birth grandparent.”
For more information about their eligibility criteria for these trips, please visit:
We have been watching Birthright Israel trips for a decade. We are troubled by their professed goals, which appear to be: (1) reducing the number of intermarriages and (2) indoctrinating young people to unquestioningly support Israel.
Since the Half-Jewish Network is an organization for half-Jewish people, we can’t support a goal of reducing intermarriages –- that’s opposing the existence of our own members! How can we say people like us should not be born?
We also cannot favor a viewpoint of unquestioningly supporting Israeli policies no matter what Israel does, given that Israel treats half-Jewish people very poorly, and we believe that such policies should be opposed.
A third problem that we have with Birthright Israel trips is that Birthright appears to have abandoned its initial position that it would work with groups from every segment of Judaism.
Birthright denied a recent request by J Street, a politically liberal organization, for permission to conduct a Birthright trip. Birthright routinely cooperates on trips planned by J Street’s politically conservative counterpart, AIPAC.
A fourth problem that we have with Birthright Israel trips is that the trips are not honest about the discrimination against half-Jewish people in Israel.
Half-Jewish people participating in these trips are never told that Israel has a huge negative web of discriminatory policies and laws against them. They are encouraged to give glowing tributes to Israel as an accepting multicultural society in books and on Youtube, apparently unaware they themselves would face legal obstacles to becoming Israeli citizens and poor treatment within Israeli society.
Many half-Jewish people come back from Birthright Israel trips feeling very positive about Israel. They start talking about staying in touch with the people they met on the trip, making aliyah, or consider studying temporarily in Israel, joining the Israel Defense Forces, etc. They talk on Youtube and in articles and books about how the trip made them “feel Jewish” for the first time. They claim that Israel welcomes adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage with no reservations.
Unfortunately, that’s not true. One adult child of intermarriage reported being denied entry to an Israeli institute of higher learning after she had a very good Birthright Israel trip. Her application was rejected because she has a Jewish father, but her mother isn’t Jewish. She had no idea that some Israelis don’t accept children of Jewish fathers as Jews, unless they convert by Orthodox ritual.
A fifth problem that we have with Birthright trips is the manner in which they are conducted. Young participants are rushed through Israel in ten days and given a one-sided view of Israel’s problems.
They are encouraged to befriend and date the young Israeli Jewish soldiers who are brought on these trips, but never meet any Israeli Jewish advocates for Arab rights and almost no Israeli or Palestinian Arabs. The few Arabs that they are allowed to meet appear carefully coached not to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Some Jewish organizations create thoughtful trips in which young participants are encouraged to see Israel realistically and ask questions about Israeli issues, but these trips are few and far between.
Because most Birthright Israel trips do not tell half-Jewish trip participants about the huge discrimination against half-Jewish people in Israel, they are in for some painful shocks later on. When some adult children of intermarriage return to Israel or have contact with Israeli organizations outside of their Birthright Israel trip, they can sometimes be abruptly disillusioned.
In essence, half-Jewish people on Birthright trips are being encouraged to love a country where some segments of the population don’t love them back, and they are not told about how some Israelis accept them as Jews, and some Israelis do not.
If you decide to go on a Birthright Israel trip, look for a trip sponsored by an organization that will allow you to ask questions and engage in thoughtful discussions. Be wary of Israeli “hasbarah” or “hasbara” (propaganda or, in English, “spin”).
COMMON BIRTHRIGHT ISRAEL MYTH
One common example of hasbarah that half-Jewish people bring back from Birthright Israel trips — we see this over and over again — is that Israel is a happy melting pot of Jewish nationalities. They are introduced to someone with, say, a Saudi Muslim father and an Israeli Jewish mother, who seems happy, and are given to understand that this represents Israeli society’s true multiracial acceptance. Unfortunately, that’s not true.
RACISM IN ISRAEL
The Yemenite Jews have experienced a certain amount of prejudice, due to being “darker” than many other Israelis, ever since their arrival in Israel in 1949.
We are also concerned about reports of discrimination against Ethiopian Jews in Israel. The Half-Jewish Network takes a special interest in them because some of the Ethiopian Jews in Israel and Ethiopia are half-Jewish — they have a Jewish father or a Jewish mother, and this has affected their immigration status and been harmful to them in other ways:
The black Ethiopian Jews have experienced enormous social, economic and religious discrimination in Israel since they began arriving in Israel in large numbers in the 1980s, and their societal problems in Israel are analogous to those of African-Americans in the United States.
Things are so bad in Israel for the Ethiopian Jews that their leaders have recently asked for the passage of affirmative action laws to protect the Ethiopian Jews of Israel, stating that decades of attempted integration efforts have failed, due to Israeli society’s racism.
For more information about the Ethiopian Jewish struggle in Israel, please visit the website of Tebeka, an Israeli organization that provides “legal aid and community capacity building for Ethiopian Israelis, and advancing the just rule of law for all Israeli citizens.”
Tebeka’s vision statement says:
“Tebeka’s vision is of a socially and economically empowered Ethiopian Israeli community that retains its rich cultural heritage and participates fully in a pluralistic Israeli society that guarantees equal protection of the law for all its citizens.”
Tebeka would welcome your donations. Tebeka has a free email newsletter you can sign up for. They can be found here:
While American Jews gave financial and leadership support to the aliyah of the Ethiopian Jews to Israel, and frequently supplied assistance to Ethiopian Jews in Ethiopia and Israel, American and European white Jewish communities have often been unwelcoming to Jews of color, including half-Jewish people of mixed heritage, though some communities are trying to do better in this area.
There are similar ongoing problems in Israel between the white Askenazi (European descent) Jews and the darker Jews from the Arab countries (Mizrahi) and the Mediterranean basin (Sephardim). Israeli society is actually very stratified by skin color and community background. Israeli Jewish newspapers discuss these issues very openly, but American Jewish newspapers — and Birthright Israel trips — seem to hide or downplay these problems.
HELPING GROUPS WHO ARE FIGHTING FOR HALF-JEWISH ISRAELI PEOPLE’S RIGHTS
ALERT No. 4: We encourage half-Jewish people to donate to Israeli organizations that are working to help half-Jewish people in Israel and recommend three of those organizations in this essay.
Unfortunately, the question of “Who Is A Jew?” in Israel also exists in the Diaspora Judaism (the Jewish communities outside of Israel), making life difficult for interfaith families elsewhere. (For more information, see the “Who Is A Jew” page on this website).
The prejudice with which half-Jewish people are sometimes treated in Israel encourages intermittent unkindness toward interfaith families in Diaspora Judaism, and vice-versa, forming a self-reinforcing, self-perpetuating loop of discrimination against interfaith families in some — not all — Jewish communities throughout the world.
Several groups are fighting for the rights of half-Jewish people in Israel. These groups include:
1. The Israel Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (IRAC)
2. Association for the Protection of Mixed Families’ Rights (in Israel)
Please see our “Israel/AMF” page on this website for a complete discussion of the AMF’s work for half-Jewish people in Israel.
3. New Family (Israel)
These groups would welcome your donations and would be happy to send you information about their work.
SOME THOUGHTS ON HALF-JEWISH PEOPLE AND DONATIONS TO ISRAELI AND PALESTINIAN CAUSES
Before you give financial donations and volunteer time to any Israeli organization or any other Israel-related organization elsewhere in the world, find out what their policies and attitudes are towards interfaith families and half-Jewish people.
Please don’t give money and volunteer time to Israeli Jewish and Diaspora Jewish organizations that work actively to promote negative policies against intermarriage and interfaith families in Israel and the Diaspora.
Some Israeli Jewish groups have legal and theological agendas that involve suppressing the Christian and Muslim faith-based communities of Israel, including communities that are quite peaceful. Since those communities contain interfaith couples and their adult children and grandchildren, we are concerned about this and keeping a watch on it.
For example, two Israeli Orthodox Jewish organizations spend their time trying to break up relationships and intermarriages between Jewish women and Arab men, in an effort to persuade the women to leave their Arab spouses and raise their children as Jews. Their work includes stalking dating Jewish-Arab couples in lover’s lanes, and helping Jewish women take their half-Jewish children and leave Arab husbands.
The organizations claim that they are only trying to break up abusive marriages, but we are skeptical that over 30,000 Jewish-Muslim intermarriages are all abusive. The Israeli government has done nothing to stop these organizations’ activities.
The same cautions apply to Christian, Muslim and other faith-based and secular or cultural organizations in Israel and elsewhere in the world that sponsor projects in Israel. Some of them are not friendly towards interfaith families, and their actions may be harmful to us.
ROOTS OF ISRAELI DISCRIMINATION AGAINST HALF-JEWISH PEOPLE
ALERT No. 5: We encourage half-Jewish people to learn more about past and current discrimination against half-Jewish people in Israeli society, so that they can effectively oppose it.
Many half-Jewish people are not contented with our discussion of Israel’s discrimination against half-Jewish people given earlier in this essay. We have received repeated requests from half-Jewish people to explain why Israel discriminates against us, not just describe the specific discriminatory policies and actions.
This is not an easy subject for us to talk about. Debate about Israel within the Diaspora Jewish community in particular, and in many Christian and Muslim communities, has become so toxic, that anyone questioning — no matter how politely and respectfully — any Israeli government policies or trends in Israeli society — or supporting Israeli government policies or trends in Israeli society — runs the risk of being shouted down by the opposing side.
Discussions of Israel nowadays can be painful and divisive, but we believe in facing difficult situations realistically.
Here is our best explanation of why Israel currently discriminates against half-Jewish people.
ISRAEL CHANGED DRAMATICALLY
Diaspora (non-Israeli) Jews and many Christians from other countries had a very close, warm relationship with Israel from its founding in 1948 through the early 1990s. Many Jews and Christians still retain fond memories of a relatively tolerant, secular, semi-socialist, democratic Israel that they visited in that era.
Unfortunately, many Diaspora Jews and Christians from other countries think that Israel is still the same as it was in that era. But that picture of Israel is no longer realistic — Israel has changed dramatically.
Israelis now over 60 years old, and many Jews — both Israeli Jews and Diaspora Jews — and Christians and Muslims — have taken a closer look, and they are deeply concerned with what they see.
They aren’t happy with:
* Israel’s denial of full civil rights and Jewish identity to thousands of resident intermarried couples, mostly Russian Israeli Jews married to Russian Christians and their adult children and grandchildren, and social and legal discrimination against Jewish-Palestinian couples and their children and grandchildren;
* Israeli refusal to legally recognize and give government funding to any forms of Judaism other than Orthodoxy, making the performance of marriages, conversions and other rituals by non-Orthodox rabbis (Reform, Conservative, Renewal, Humanistic, Reconstructionist) to have no legal effect;
* the demand by many Israeli and Diaspora Jews that all Diaspora Jews unquestioningly support all Israeli government initiatives, while Israeli Jews are allowed to freely dissent and question the Israeli government’s actions and also to criticize Diaspora Jewish communities and Diaspora national governments;
* Israel’s very poor treatment of the Israeli Arabs and the Palestinians, including a pervasive denial that ignores or attacks Palestinian narratives of the origins and continuing events of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, attributes the causation of the conflict entirely to the Palestinians, and places all blame for the failure to achieve a peace treaty only on the Palestinians and their Arab allies;
* the skyrocketing population growth of the ultra-Orthodox Jews, some of whom are openly planning, once they become a majority of Israeli Jewish voters, to create what might be called a “Halachic Republic of Israel,” in which everyone in Israel will have to live under Orthodox halacha (religious law), just as in some Islamic countries all citizens live under sharia (Islamic religious law).
A “Halachic Republic of Israel” would dramatically increase the discrimination against interfaith couples and half-Jewish people.
A HALACHIC REPUBLIC OF ISRAEL?
While observers of Israel have naturally focused heavily on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel’s wars with surrounding Arab countries, Israelis are likely in greater danger from problems within the country.
Israel’s government recently reported that 48% of all children in the Israeli school system are now either Haredi Orthodox or Arab. The Israeli government also recently counted the number and backgrounds of children in kindergarten, and found that one-third of all Jewish kindergarten children in Israel are now ultra-Orthodox (Haredi and Hasidic):
What this means is that around the year 2024, one-third of Israel’s 18 year olds will be ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose men mostly do not serve in the military or work in jobs — they study Jewish religious texts.
Since the ultra-Orthodox marry young and have between four to ten children per family, it does not require any background in statistics or mathematics to see that the ultra-Orthodox will be the majority of Israeli Jews in the very near future, perhaps by the year 2040.
One study suggests that the ultra-Orthodox will be at least 37% of all Israeli Jews in the year 2050:
Because the ultra-Orthodox and the Israeli Arabs (including the Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza) will probably be the two largest population groups in that era, it is quite possible that there will be a civil war between them, as the Palestinian Arabs, both inside Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza, are not likely to be willing to live under a theocratic “Halachic Republic of Israel.”
Israel’s other large groups of citizens – the chilonim (seculars), the Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews, the ”national religious” Orthodox, the West Bank Jewish settlers, the Modern Orthodox – will probably either side with the ultra-Orthodox, as many of the other Israeli groups are Orthodox, or, in the case of the chilonim, they will probably leave the country.
It’s unclear who the Druze Arabs and Bedouin Arabs would side with — right now they serve in the IDF and have been loyal citizens of Israel. But the Bedouin have not been treated well by the Israeli Jews, and that poor treatment could eventually erode their loyalty.
If a “Halachic Republic of Israel” takes power, it is probable that the relationship between Israel, on the one hand, and the non-Orthodox Jews and many of the Christians of the Western democracies on the other hand, will not survive. Modern Jews and Christians will not support a theocratic republic existing under Jewish Orthodox religious law (halacha).
HOW DID THIS SITUATION DEVELOP?
The ultra-Orthodox Jews of Israel, both Haredi and Hasidic, lived in peace with the Christian and Muslim Arabs for centuries prior to the founding of Israel after WWII. For decades after the founding of Israel in 1948, they continued to live peacefully with Palestinian Christian and Muslim Arabs and with other non-Orthodox and moderate Orthodox Jews.
Under an arrangement with the Israeli government in the late 1940s, the ultra-Orthodox did not serve in the IDF, and many exist on a mixture of state welfare and tzedakah (private charity from other Jews). The men study in kollelim (study centers for married men); their wives sometimes take lower-paying jobs in childcare, teaching and social work within their own communities.
The Israeli government made these arrangements partly to secure ultra-Orthodox participation in the Israeli government, which the ultra-Orthodox had previously opposed on the grounds that no Jewish government should exist in Israel until a Jewish messiah arrived.
These special arrangements were also made to preserve the ultra-Orthodox way of life, which the Israeli government regarded as valuable, since it preserved many Jewish traditions.
Initially these special arrangements worked well. The ultra-Orthodox shared many of their rich spiritual and cultural traditions with non-Orthodox Jewish spiritual seekers and with historians seeking complete accounts of ancient Jewish traditions.
The ultra-Orthodox made, and continue to make, invaluable contributions as teachers and writers on many Jewish spiritual subjects for thousands of non-Orthodox Jews.
WHAT WOULD A “HALACHIC REPUBLIC” FOCUS ON?
But as the ultra-Orthodox population has grown, and their participation in Israeli politics has increased, problems have emerged.
First, as the ultra-Orthodox population has increased, the chilonim (secular Israeli Jews) and other Israeli groups, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have felt that they are carrying a heavier tax burden because so many of the ultra-Orthodox men spend their lives studying religious texts instead of participating in the workplace.
Another source of resentment among the rest of the Israeli population is the ultra-Orthodox exemption from military service. Because ultra-Orthodox men and women generally do not serve in Israel’s military unless they wish to, the Israeli draft — and injuries and death in war — have fallen more heavily on the rest of the Israeli Jewish population.
But the darkest trend has emerged among some — not all — of the ultra-Orthodox groups who are planning for the day when they become the majority, or a plurality, of Israeli Jewish voters. They have begun flexing political muscle in very rough ways.
There are open discussions among some ultra-Orthodox groups about what they plan to do once they have control of Israel. Currently, they are demanding special sex-segregated bus lines for their neighborhoods, with women forced to sit in the back of the bus, and only men allowed to sit in the front of the bus.
Some Orthodox leaders openly state that eventually halacha (Orthodox religious law) will be the law of the land in Israel.
The Israeli government currently subsidizes 60% of ultra-Orthodox school system expenses, but the ultra-Orthodox schools mostly refuse to teach English, math, science or computers, preferring to focus, instead, on religious studies.
The ultra-Orthodox school system is said by the Israeli media to spread the view that Israel’s secular government is not really legitimate, and should be replaced by a religious government. Other views repeatedly attributed to the ultra-Orthodox school system by the Israeli media include allegations that pupils are being taught that “Judaism is not a democracy.”
The ultra-Orthodox are also pushing for changes within the Israeli parliament (Knesset) to amend Israel’s Law of Return. Israel’s Law of Return currently allows anyone with a Jewish parent or grandparent who identifies as a Jew to immigrate to Israel.
Some ultra-Orthodox wish to change the Law of Return to comply with the halachic (Orthodox law) standard of “who is a Jew.” Their apparent goal is to alter the Law of Return so that only Jews who can prove that they have a biological Jewish mother and maternal grandmother will be allowed to enter Israel and become citizens who will be recognized as Jews by the immigration ministry and the Orthodox rabbinic courts.
Members of interfaith families living in Israel are further victimized because the ultra-Orthodox have gained control of Israel’s rabbinic courts, which, along with the immigration ministry, have the power to declare someone “Jewish” or “not-Jewish.”
Ultra-Orthodox rabbinical judges have begun reversing thousands of Orthodox conversions undergone by the spouses of intermarried Jews, turning the spouses into “non-Jews” overnight, and often taking away the children’s Jewish identity as well. The ultra-Orthodox have sometimes gained control of segments of the immigration ministry that deal with interfaith couples and half-Jewish people whenever their political parties are in power.
Some of the ultra-Orthodox groups — not all — also bully and abuse Christian groups in Israel, whether composed of Jews, members of interfaith families or Palestinian Arab Christians. As mentioned above, these ultra-Orthodox groups have also organized attempts to prevent Jews from dating or marrying Palestinian Arabs.
WHAT MIGHT THE HALACHIC REPUBLIC LOOK LIKE?
A foreshadowing of what the “Halachic Republic” might look like occurred in the summer of 2009, when weekly riots broke out in Jerusalem due to ultra-Orthodox groups objecting to: (1) the secular mayor of Jerusalem authorizing the opening of a parking garage on Shabbat for secular visitors to Jerusalem — a garage that was not even in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods; and (2) the arrest by Israeli police of a Hasidic woman accused of abusing one of her children.
Here is a video of one of the riots, as broadcast on Israeli TV Channel 2:
While the three minute broadcast is in Hebrew, no translation is needed to see and understand the violence, especially in segments where the Israeli police and soldiers are visibly outnumbered by ultra-Orthodox rioters, apparently 100 to 1.
This is not an isolated incident. The Israeli newspapers — which are available in free editions online, translated into English — continue to report this type of violent encounter between ultra-Orthodox communities and the Israeli authorities, though it usually does not last as many weeks as the summer 2009 riots.
DO ALL ISRAELIS AGREE WITH THESE POLICIES?
Many Israelis do not agree with the policies favoring war with the Palestinians, second-class treatment of Israeli Arab citizens, ultra-Orthodox control of the rabbinical courts deciding “who is a Jew,” etc.
Many ultra-Orthodox, for example, spoke out against the ultra-Orthodox rioters in Jerusalem in 2009. They described the rioters as engaging in “chillul Hashem” (desecration of God’s name).
Israeli media polls show that a majority of Israelis repeatedly oppose continuing the war against the Palestinians, want a “two state” (an Israeli state and a Palestinian state) solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an end to the harsh treatment of interfaith families, etc.
So why haven’t Israel’s policies changed? There seem to be two reasons: (1) Israel’s government is weak and (2) Israel’s anti-democratic Orthodox political parties are slowly gaining more power.
ISRAEL’S GOVERNMENT IS WEAK
Israel’s government is weak. Israel has no written constitution, a Supreme Court that is much weaker than the one in the United States, and a one-house parliament (Knesset).
The party of a candidate for Prime Minister must win the majority of seats in the Knesset. But most parties, even if they get the largest number of seats in the Knesset, must form a coalition government with smaller parties to survive.
If a winning candidate for Prime Minister cannot create a coalition with other parties, that candidate must step down, and the candidate with the second largest number of Knesset seats is asked to form a coalition.
This leads to endless, short-lived, feeble coalition governments composed of tiny political parties, with each party fixated on getting as much as it can for its small segment of the Israeli population. Israel’s coalition governments most closely resemble the unstable, short-lived post-World War II governments of Italy.
So even when Israeli citizens vote to change certain policies, their wishes are ignored if their candidate cannot form a governing coalition. This is what happened in Israel’s February 2009 election.
Moderate Tzipi Livni, leader of the centrist Kadima party in 2009, favored better treatment of interfaith couples and half-Jewish people in Israel.
Livni’s Kadima Party won the largest number of Knesset seats. But rival right-wing Likud party, under Binyamin Netanyahu, won only one less Knesset seat than Kadima. Other smaller right-wing parties, that were also ultra-Orthodox, also won seats and were willing to enter a coalition with Netanyahu and Likud, but not with Livni and Kadima.
So Netanyahu became Prime Minister instead of Livni. Livni became the opposition leader in the Knesset. Even though Livni’s Kadima party had the largest number of seats in the Knesset, the government went to her rival, Netanyahu.
Depriving Livni of her election victory had bad consequences for members of interfaith families. The right-wing ultra-Orthodox parties in Netanyahu’s coalition mostly favor discriminatory laws and policies against interfaith couples and half-Jewish people, so the discrimination has continued.
In addition, Livni eventually lost her position as leader of Kadima. As of 2012, Livni became the leader of smaller new party, and Kadima began to disintegrate. So Livni now has less power to help members of interfaith families.
ISRAEL DRIFTING TO THE ORTHODOX ANTI-DEMOCRACY RELIGIOUS RIGHT
Finally, there is another reason why Israel’s policies towards half-Jewish people and in other areas have not changed. Public opinion surveys in Israel show that Israeli Jewish voters are slowly drifting to the Orthodox anti-democracy right-wing, and voting for parties that have sponsored laws and social policies that harm half-Jewish people and intermarried couples.
Many half-Jewish people and Jews living in Western democracies do not understand that Israel’s politically conservative parties are not like the politically conservative parties of their own countries, which are generally concerned with budget-cutting, military defense and public morality issues, and are usually respectful of the laws protecting citizens’ rights and constitutional legal systems.
The right-wing parties of Israel are heavily influenced by religious ideologies that regard democracy as a non-Jewish concept. They believe that individual human rights are not as important as obedience to Orthodox religious law (halacha).
As the number of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Israeli Jewish voters grows, there is a corresponding growth in the number of Israeli Jewish voters who see half-Jewish people as not fully Jewish, intermarriage as wrong, the Palestinian Arabs as inferior, peace agreements with the Palestinians as treason, and any opposition or criticism to Israeli government policies by other Jews, Christians and Muslims, no matter how politely expressed and moderate, as opposition to Israel’s existence and God’s will.
An example of how these attitudes affect Israel was a recent debate in the Knesset about a proposed constitution for Israel. Israel desperately needs a constitution because its laws are based on an unstable foundation of Turkish Ottoman Empire Islamic law, British common law from the 1930s, and subsequent Israeli legislation and court cases.
For example, the laws discriminating against interfaith families are based on old Ottoman Empire law and later Israeli court cases and legislation.
But the draft constitution would not have been beneficial to half-Jewish people.
The Knesset committee drafting the proposed constitution began by holding hearings on how to exclude patrilineal grandchildren of intermarriage from the Law of Return and put that in the constitution, thereby preventing them from making aliyah. This would have been the first step to ultimately restricting aliyah to matrilineal Jews and cutting out patrilineal Jews entirely.
The draft constitution failed to receive Knesset action because of its opening line: “Israel is a Jewish and democratic state” was opposed by both the ultra-Orthodox Knesset members and the Arab Knesset members.
The Arab Knesset members wanted the word “Jewish” dropped. They were willing to accept the word “democratic.” Arab Israelis comprise 25 percent of all Israeli citizens within Israel’s internationally recognized borders. This figure does not include the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.
The ultra-Orthodox Knesset members wanted the word “democratic” dropped. They believe that Judaism is not based on democracy. They were willing to accept the word “Jewish.”
The Knesset was forced to shelve the proposed constitution. That was probably to the benefit of half-Jewish people.
RESEARCH ON ARAB-JEWISH INTERMARRIAGES
Alert No. 6: What should researchers learn about Arab-Jewish intermarriages and their adult half-Jewish, half-Arab children and grandchildren?
As the Half-Jewish Network grows, we am getting more and more inquiries from people who want to do research on Arab-Jewish couples and their adult children and grandchildren in Israel, the Palestinian territories and abroad.
We have seen discussions in the Israeli Jewish media suggesting that there are over 30,000 Jewish-Arab intermarried couples and their number is growing. We have seen no statistical studies yet, but anecdotes suggest that many of these intermarriages are Jewish women married to Arab men.
We have placed the information that we currently have about Arab-Jewish couples and their adult children and grandchildren in Israel and the Palestinian territories on this web page.
We update this information whenever we get new items of interest. We also include items about Arab-Jewish families in Israel in our monthly email newsletter from time to time.
We monitor Arab-Jewish intermarriages in Israel because of we are concerned about the welfare and safety of their half-Jewish, half-Arab adult children and grandchildren.
If you are seeking information about Jewish-Arab couples and their adult children or grandchildren in Israel and the Palestinian territories for creative or research projects, here are some thoughts that may assist your research.
PURPOSES OF RESEARCH
Sometimes Arab-Jewish couples and their adult children are sought for news films, documentaries, non-fiction books or academic research. Other times they are asked to provide information for artistic and literary works — novels, plays, fictional films and other forms of creative writing.
Some researchers understand the issues, such as an Israeli social worker who contacted us. He is trying to stop Israeli government discrimination against intermarried Jewish-Arab couples and their kids. Through aiding people like this social worker, we might be able to help half-Jewish, half-Arab people in Israel.
But we do have some concerns because many researchers’ requests — unlike that of the Israeli social worker — raise serious issues that worry us.
Some creative people and academic researchers appear unaware that doing heavily publicized interviews with Arab-Jewish families in Israel can cause the families serious trouble and add to the discrimination that these families already face within Israeli and Palestinian societies.
Many of the creative people and researchers who contact us know very little about the Israel-Palestinian conflict, regardless of their own personal religious and ethnic backgrounds, whether Jewish, Christian or other faiths or secular belief systems.
Some of the creative people and researchers who contact us unconsciously slip into viewing Arab-Jewish interfaith couples and their adult children and grandchildren only as symbols to be used in their work rather than as people with real needs and feelings of their own.
We are concerned that descendants of Arab-Jewish intermarriages are being seen by some researchers in the same light as biracial half-African-American and half-white people used to be viewed by 19th and 20th century American white interviewers, who saw them as “tragic mulattoes.”
Some of the creative people and academic researchers who contact us appear unaware that there is pervasive discrimination against non-Arab Russian half-Jewish people in Israel — usually Israeli citizens with a Russian Jewish father and a Russian Christian mother – and also against half-Jewish people throughout the Jewish Diaspora (communities outside of Israel).
After careful consideration of all of these issues, we have decided for the present to continue posting this information on our website and in our email newsletter to help creative people and academic researchers who are interested in researching Arab-Jewish intermarriages and their adult descendants in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
We hope that the non-fiction books, creative works, and academic research growing out of these projects will call public attention to the legal and social discrimination against Jewish-Arab intermarried couples and their half-Jewish, half-Arab descendants of intermarriage in Israel and the Palestinian territories, who are subjected to more discrimination than the Russian half-Jewish people of Israel and the Disapora half-Jewish people.
Here is our current advice for learning more about the situation of Jewish-Arab intermarried couples and their adult children and grandchildren in Israel and the Palestinian territories in a respectful and informed manner.
1. Here are two books which contain many pages on Jewish-Arab intermarriages. They are invaluable background for research on this subject:
a. Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land, by David K. Shipler.
b. War Without End: Israelis, Palestinians and the Struggle for a Promised Land, by Anton La Guardia.
2. We always suggest that researchers input into Google and other search engines ”Jewish-Arab intermarriages” and “Jewish Muslim relationships” and similar multiple variations on these terms, and review at least the first 20 pages that come up for each search term.
While this may sound ridiculously simplistic, we believe that you will be led to contacts that might be useful in a search for interviewees and information. Some creative people and academic researchers appear to have inadvertently omitted this step.
3. Please keep in mind that in our experience few Jewish-Arab intermarried couples or their adult children want to be interviewed. Here is what happened to one who became famous, as a movie star, a peace activist and a theater director:
It is likely that very few Jewish-Arab families want to risk being killed, like Mr. Mer-Khamis, or subjected to more discrimination. Please keep this in mind when approaching them for research projects.
4. Here is a star who feels it is safe to be famous — but her family is in the UK — her brother joined an intifada:
Reya El-Salahi, (Jewish mother, Muslim father), a BBC radio broadcaster and television writer
Given these constraints, research on this subject will not be easy, but it can be done.
5. Subscribe to the following blog of Israeli religious news, which often has information about Arab-Jewish intermarriages and their adult descendants. It is free and in English:
It prints selections from many different Israeli papers in English. You may wish to review past issues for more information. Its articles will likely lead you to contacts that may help in your research.
6. With regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the best book in English is by Benny Morris, “Righteous Victims: A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” found here:
Mr. Morris has taken a number of controversial stands in recent years — his political views have apparently shifted to the right — including advocating — if we understand him correctly — removing all Arabs from Israel — a position that we strongly disapprove of — but his book is evenhanded and objective in chronicling the origins and devastating consequences of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This book is the quickest way to grasp the circumstances in which Arab-Jewish families find themselves.
7. Here are postings from a temporary Jewish-Islamic intermarriages message board put up by interfaithfamily.com in 2002-2003:
8. Here is information about right-wing Israeli Orthodox Jewish groups dedicated to breaking up Israeli Jewish-Arab intermarriages and preventing those marriages from taking place:
Yad L’Achim — http://www.yadlachimusa.org.il/?CategoryID=188
9. Here is an article on the (predominantly) right-wing Israeli Knesset (Parliament) “Jewish Identity Day” hearing on February 11, 2011 that discussed ways to prevent Jewish women from marrying Arab men:
10. Here are several Israeli Jewish groups involved in advocacy for interfaith families within Israel:
a. The Israel Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (IRAC)
b. Association for the Protection of Mixed Families’ Rights (in Israel)
Please see our “Israel/AMF” page on this website for a complete discussion of the AMF’s work for half-Jewish people in Israel.
c. New Family (Israel)
These groups would welcome your donations and would be happy to send you information about their work.
WHEN YOUR RESEARCH IS COMPLETED
When you decide to publish your project, please contact us. We would be pleased to review it for possible inclusion on the Half-Jewish Network website’s resources lists and in our email newsletter.
We regret that we cannot provide you with any additional research guidance, information or interviewees for you in Israel and the Palestinian territories beyond what is posted on this website. This essay on Israel is comprehensive and the fruit of many years of work, and we think it is sufficient assistance for most research projects.
When we have more information about Arab-Jewish families in Israel and the Palestinian territories that should be made public, we will gladly post it here and mention it in our email newsletter.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Alert No. 7: We recommend that half-Jewish people support organizations working for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and organizations promoting democracy and pluralism in Israeli society.
First, if you are spiritual, Israel desperately needs your prayers, perhaps more than ever before in its history.
Second, if you donate money to any Israeli Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Palestinian Arab causes, teachers, or Israel-related organizations of any type, please do not give money to any groups that advocate or assist in attacks on interfaith families or violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It is our experience that groups which advocate the use of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict also tend to be hostile to members of interfaith families.
Be advised that even extremist groups that are friendly to members of interfaith families on an individual level, welcoming them to membership, may have theological or political goals that contribute directly or indirectly to violence among the Israelis and Palestinians.
We are not saying don’t buy books and ceramics and weaving from Israeli Jewish or Palestinian secular organizations and spiritual groups that have taken sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or where you have a 10 percent disagreement with part of their outlook. Hopefully, we can all be civil and all get along.
But if a group is associated with violence itself or has helped support other groups that advocate or engage in violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, keep your wallet closed.
If you have any doubts about a group that you would like to become involved with, carefully review their website and ask questions. Try before you buy.
Third, please consider reading the Israeli newspapers online. Google “Haaretz English language edition” and “Jerusalem Post English language edition” and “Yedidot English language edition,” and you will be taken directly to the daily English language versions of Israeli newspapers. The newspapers are free online.
If you support or disagree with comments in the English language “talk back” comments sections on Israeli news websites, post a comment of your own. Israelis need to hear from us.
If you would like to sign up for free email summaries of Israeli news in English that directly affects half-Jewish people instead of subscribing on your own to many newspapers, we suggest that you sign up for “”Religion and State in Israel” here:
Fourth, please join Jewish, Christian, Muslim, interfaith and secular groups working for peace with the Palestinians and a pluralistic democracy within Israel. If you cannot find an organization that you like, please contact us, and we will be glad to recommend several.
Here are examples of groups that we have noticed — and there are many more, with multiple different types of ideologies and beliefs:
1. Jewish Voice for Peace
2. Churches for Middle East Peace
3. Rabbis for Human Rights – Israel
If these groups do not resonate with you, we will be happy to recommend others that may be much closer to your personal beliefs, whether your beliefs are centrist, liberal or conservative.
Here are some other groups that we feel are worthy of support — we’ve mentioned them to you before, but we’d like to bring them to your attention again:
1. Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism at:
2. Association for the Rights of Mixed Families (in Israel):
3. New Family:
If none of these groups seem appropriate for your needs, please let us know, and we will be happy to recommend other Jewish, Christian and Muslim groups.
Sixth, please keep compassion and concern in your heart for both the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Arabs. It is very easy to simply shut our hearts and ears, and walk away, but please don’t do that. They need us.
Seventh, just because you disagree with a Jewish, Christian or Muslim person’s political or religious position on Israel does not mean that all of their other contributions to their faith-based cultures should be invalidated and despised.
Eighth, do not pre-judge a Jewish, Christian or Muslim person’s views on any Jewish topic by the group that person belongs to. For example, we have had some tough things to say in this essay about some ultra-Orthodox groups that have engaged in violence against other Israeli Jews, and that have advocated for harsher restrictions on the citizenship of members of interfaith families.
At the same time, there are many law-abiding ultra-Orthodox in Israel, who would never think of participating in a riot, and are openly in favor of greater outreach to interfaith families in Israel and the Diaspora, despite the pressures against such views in their communities.
We have also dealt with people from liberal Jewish groups who advocated very harsh measures against the Palestinian Arabs and were opposed to helping interfaith families, even though their beliefs contradicted those of the liberal Jewish groups that they worked for or belonged to.
So a Jewish, Christian or Muslim person may covertly or openly disagree with the policies advocated by their membership groups. Never pre-judge — always ask what they think.
PLEASE DON’T DISENGAGE FROM ISRAEL AND THE PALESTINIANS
Some half-Jewish people find the subject of Israel so painful that they are tempted to completely disengage, and ignore all news about Israel and “Who is a Jew?” and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But if we disengage from the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Muslim and Christian Arabs, we will lose all ability to influence the events there in any way. We will become helpless bystanders. Our voices, donations and emails are needed.
Also, if we give up on Israel and the Palestinians, we are abandoning a deep connection to the three “Peoples of the Book” — Jews, Christians, and Muslims, all connected through a shared Tanach (Hebrew Bible, the Christian “Old Testament”) — in Israel and the Palestinian territories, who desperately need our help, our donations and our prayers. Let’s just help them wisely. Some day we’ll be glad we did.
ADVICE FROM THE THREE ABRAHAMIC FAITHS
In closing, we remind everyone of Rabbi Hillel’s admonition in the Talmud:
“That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 31a).
We also remind everyone of Christ’s command in the New Testament:
“Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. . . . But love your enemies . . . ” (Luke 6:27-35, NIV version)
There is also good advice from the Qu’ran of Islam:
“Whoever recommends and helps a good cause becomes a partner therein: And whoever recommends and helps an evil cause, shares in its burden: And Allah hath power over all things.” (Chapter 4, Verse 85)