Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Israel's campaign to eradicate 'race-mixing'

Last week an Israeli court sentenced a Palestinian man to 18 months in prison for engaging in consensual sex with a Jewish woman who claims to have believed he was a Jew.

The charge?  "Rape by deception."

The judge said:
"If she hadn't thought the accused was a Jewish bachelor interested in a serious romantic relationship, she would not have cooperated...The court is obliged to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price – the sanctity of their bodies and souls."
The level of racism and sexism here is astounding; this case illustrates the colonial, apartheid nature of the state of Israel, where separate laws, roads, and other public facilities apply to Jews and Palestinians, and where Palestinians are dehumanized to such an extent that military units make t-shirts promoting the murder of pregnant women and children (to be worn by soldiers sent to kill Palestinian civilians in Gaza and elsewhere).

Not only are Palestinians denied self-determination in the occupied territories and reduced to second-class status within the state of Israel, the Israeli courts have deemed Arab men a threat to Jewish womanhood.

As Tsafi Saar wrote in Ha'aretz, "alongside "They'll take our jobs," the utterance "They'll sleep with our women" is one of the most emblematic claims of racists."

Richard Seymour breaks this case down well in a post at Lenin's Tomb called "Racist patriarchy in Israel."  It is worth quoting him at length:
"Are you getting it yet? Sex with an Arab constitutes a violation of the sanctity of body and soul - an "unbearable price". This is not a freakish opinion in Israeli society. For example, half of Israeli Jews believe intermarriage between Arabs and Jews is equivalent to national treason (that demographic 'timebomb', you see). Some are determined to enforce this sexual separation through violence or policy. Gangs of men in a Jerusalem neighbourhood roam around, behaving as a de facto vice and virtue squad, to 'protect' young Jewish girls from Arabs. One local authority has set up a squad of counsellors and psychiatrists to 'rescue' Jewish girls who are dating Arabs.

Hostility to inter-marriage and cross-ethnic dating pervades Zionist culture, and is reproduced at structural and institutional levels from the cradle to the grave. There has been a raft of legislative measures since 1948 that are designed to frustrate socialisation between Jews and Arabs, and the existing structures of segregation in education and housing ensure that intermarriage is already very rare."
In a society based on the institutionalized supremacy (legal racism) of one group over another (in this case Jews over Palestinians), opposition to "inter-marriage" is an odious but inevitable result.

A system based on upholding the "purity" of one group must control and police the sexuality of women within that group, who are tasked with giving birth to and raising the next generation of the dominant group, and "protect" them from men from the oppressed group.

In addition to official rulings like the one mentioned above, extremist groups patrol neighborhoods on the look-out for Jewish women with Arab men, and municipalities employ counselors and psychologists to "rescue" these women.

Although the judge and other opponents of Arab/Jew relationships claim to be acting in the interest of Jewish women, their actions are as sexist as they are racist.

Marriage (and divorce) laws in Israel are hopelessly reactionary, based on biblical mandates.  Jews cannot marry non-Jews within Israel, but must travel abroad to do so.  The marriage is only recognized upon the couple's return to Israel.

All marriages in Israel must be performed by official religious institutions (for Jews, this is the Chief Rabbinate of Israel).  The same goes for divorce, a fact that underlines that while this ruling claims to be about protecting the "sanctity of their bodies and souls," Israeli law is shockingly sexist.

Divorce is a basic right for women, a gain that had to be fought for and won.  It is a step towards women's liberation from the family, an oppressive institution that has historically placed women under the legal control of their husband.

Divorce law in Israel treats men and women differently, with women in an inferior position.  For example, a man (in a Jewish marriage) whose wife is committed to a mental hospital as "incurably ill," may remarry if he receives permission from a rabbinical court, while a woman cannot.

Not only are Jewish women reduced to the role of wombs carrying the next generation of IDF soldiers, but they are also denied their right to choose their own partner free of harassment.  As one woman said: “I’m not stupid, or gullible or looking for trouble. I’m a Jewish girl who happened to meet a guy I like, who happens to be Arab.  It’s my business."

Such a climate only emboldens those who use violence to enforce this racist morality.

Such policies are not unique to Israel.  Prohibitions against "race-mixing," or "miscegenation" were passed in Nazi Germany, the Jim Crow South (and across the US...they weren't ruled unconstitutional until Loving v. Virginia in 1967), and apartheid South Africa.

Also common in these societies, where racism was the law of the land, was propaganda promoting the idea that the oppressed "other" is a predatory threat to women of the dominant group.

We see it in Nazi propaganda; 14-year-old Emmet Till was murdered in Mississippi in 1955 for talking to a white woman; rabbis in Israel speak of "the “seducing” of Jewish girls" as “another form of war” by Arab men."

Israel's credibility has taken a major hit in the wake of its savage assault on Gaza in 2008 (Operation Cast Lead) and the recent massacre aboard the Mavi Marmara "Freedom Flotilla."  The movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions from Israel in solidarity with the Palestinian people is picking up steam.

In this context, Israel is attempting to clean up its image by portraying itself as an "oasis" of LGBT equality in the Middle East, in addition to the racist caricature of Islam as uniquely sexist.

However, the same marriage laws that require mixed couples to leave Israel to marry apply to same-sex couples who must marry abroad in order to receive recognition of their union. 

Supporters of sexual (and human) liberation should reject and expose these lies, join the growing movement for equal rights for Palestinians and Jews in the land that is currently Israel and the occupied territories, and demand freedom of association between people of all races and religions.

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