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Prevention Of Assimilation in the Holy Land

By S.D.K.

Palestine Monitor, March 9, 2011

The ultraconservative Lehava organization mounted a new campaign, issuing kashrut certification to Israeli restaurants that hire Jews, exclusively. The signs will read: "We hire Jewish workers and no enemies." This reflects a recurring anxiety in the Orthodox Jewish community: interracial mixing.

"Assimilation has forever been one of the enemies of the Jewish people," Baruch Marzel said. Marzel is an outspoken member of the ultraconservative Lehava Organization. He has huge, wiry black beard and wears a yarmulke. Marzel is originally from Boston, MA, but immigrated to Israel at a young age.

In the far right Jewish community, Marzel is an important player. He was a senior activist for the now-defunct Kach (a party whose [racist ideology permeates mainstream Israeli politics-ttp://www.palestinemonitor.org/spip/spip.php?article1572]). Today, he is involved in the political party Herut, the National Movement, and heads the Jewish National Front. He lives in the center of Hebron and, like all members of the Lehava Organization, is vehemently opposed to interracial mixing.

The Lehava Organization has one goal: to make sure Israel is a Jewish state and stays that way. Literally their name means, "flame," and in Hebrew is an acronym for "Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land."

RACIAL HIRING

This February, Lehava began issuing special kashrut certification to Jewish restaurants in Jerusalem that agree to hire Jews exclusively. Most of these businesses are in strict, Orthodox neighborhoods, where restaurant owners expect the certification will boost business. The signs will read: "We hire Jewish workers and no enemies."

"We are calling on business owners to encourage Jewish employment and refrain [from] employing gentiles," Bentzi Gopstein, another active voice in Lehava said. Gopstei lives in the Kiryat Arba settlement, near Hebron. "Employing Arabs creates the problem of assimilation," he said.

One Lehava activist explained that their organization is engaged in an "existential struggle for the character of the Jewish State." And, he said, "we don’t intend to give up."

Anxieties about assimilation are at the heart of all of Lehava’s campaigns. The organization has discouraged Jewish landlords in Safed from renting apartments to Arabs. They’ve also plastered posters in the streets of the Neveh Yaakov and Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhoods in Jerusalem, warning young Jewish women about the perils of interracial dating.

Last March, Lehava made news when Baruch Marzel wrote a now-famous letter to Israeli model and singer Bar Rafeali. She had been dating the American actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who is not Jewish.

"I tried to call her, but she wouldn’t answer, " Marzel said. So he wrote her a letter.

"It is not by chance that you were born Jewish," Marzel wrote in his letter. "Your grandmother and her grandmother did not dream that one of their descendants would one day remove the family’s future generations from the Jewish people."

He was writing an appeal to her, pleading her to rethink her relationship with the gentile DiCaprio.

"We appeal to you," he wrote, "begging, pleading, praying."

Rafeali immediately sent the letter to the press. She and DiCaprio did not break up. They met in 2005 in Las Vegas and—though they took a break in 2009—have been dating since.

Lehava is one of the more outspoken far right organizations in Israel, but anti-assimilation rhetoric is not new, or only limited to the Orthodox community. The State does not recognize marriage between its Jewish and Arab citizens unless they are performed abroad. Most mixed couples go to Cyprus and marry there, in a civil ceremony.

DIASPORA OUTREACH

For the far-right, the fear of assimilation is not limited to Israel.

In 2009, the Israeli government mounted an advertising campaign calling for Jewish citizens to talk to their Jewish friends and family abroad, especially in the United States and Canada.

"More than 50 percent of Diaspora youth assimilate," the add read, "and are lost to us."

The majority of the Jews in the United States and Canada, numbering around 5.7 million, belong to Reform communities. Reform Judaism, unlike the Orthodoxy, is not opposed to intermarriage.

The Union of Reform Judaism wrote a brochure about intermarriage and posted in on their North American website. "Reform Judaism is committed to providing an atmosphere of welcome in congregations," it reads, "that embraces and supports interfaith couples." They also quote the prophet Isaiah:

"My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." (Isaiah 56:7)



:: Article nr. 75712 sent on 10-mar-2011 04:19 ECT

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