For American Jews, "intermarriage" typically implies a particular scenario: it's the husband who's Jewish, and the non-Jewish partner represents a WASP elite, or at the very least a mainstream white Christianity devoid of all hyphenation and neurosis. A male Jewish outsider penetrating (get it? get it?) Real America. The Jewish-communal cry is for 'our' men not to be tempted away by a 'shiksa.' This may be an image with more to do with certain mid-to-late-20th-century fiction and film than with real-life, 2010 couples, but regardless, that's "intermarriage" in America.*
Not so in Israel. Apparently. The narrative there is a whole bunch of the other way 'round - the would-be intermarriers are Jewish women, not men, and the would-be non-Jewish spouses are Arabs. The genders are swapped, as is the role of the Other. (See also.)
What's bizarre about this, among other things, is that the rabbis' wives who've made opposing such marriages their cause claim to be fighting "assimilation." Meanwhile, if anyone's assimilating, it would be the Arab men who, according to the rabbis' wives, pose as Jewish: "'Yusuf turns into Yossi, Samir turns into Sami and Abed turns into Ami.'" Although I guess their claim is that Frieda becomes Fatima once the marriage takes place. I mean, who knows. The subset of Jews who'd get worked up about Jewish women and Arab men working together in a supermarket are in no place to start throwing women's-rights critiques at the Arab or Muslim world.
But I can't say I've given much thought to intermarriage in Israel. Marriage in Israel more so, because the rules are a mess, to the point that even a gung-ho Zionist looking to marry a fellow Jew might be well-advised to do the actual marrying elsewhere. But I'd always assumed that living in Israel made marrying in the default for Jews, and, based on that assumption, have encouraged theoretical secular American Jewish parents who decide to throw theoretical fits when they find out that their children they've raised with no religion or areligious Judaism whatsoever are lo and behold not committed to marrying in to consider that maybe, if this was their main concern, and they had no interest in participating in Jewish communal life here in the States, they might have considered moving to a place where it's possible to have Jewish grandchildren by default.
But I don't revel in being uninformed, particularly when it comes to topics related, however tangentially, to my research. So I Googled, and... hmm. So perhaps the intermarriage debate in Israel is just a wacko extension of the one going on in the Diaspora, as opposed to a home-grown one centered on the rare cases of Jews marrying out within Israel? This from 2009:
The Israeli government has launched a television and internet advertising campaign urging Israelis to inform on Jewish friends and relatives abroad who may be in danger of marrying non-Jews. The advertisements, employing what the Israeli media described as 'scare tactics', are designed to stop assimilation through intermarriage among young diaspora Jews by encouraging them to move to Israel.Unnerved yet? If not, there's also this:
One-third of Jews in the diaspora are believed to have relatives in Israel. According to the campaign's organisers, more than 200 Israelis rang a hotline to report names of Jews living abroad after the first TV advertisement was run on Wednesday. Callers left details of e-mail addresses and Facebook and Twitter accounts. The 30-second clip featured a series of missing-person posters on street corners, in subways and on telephone boxes showing images of Jewish youths above the word "Lost" in different languages.More Googling, and the story only gets creepier, but at least it seems as though the campaign isn't representative of all (most? how much?) Israeli opinion on the matter. Anyway, I realize I'm more than a year late on this, but good on Esther Kustanowitz for pointing out how low it is to compare intermarrying Jews to people who are actually, well, missing or dead.
This is all kinds of blech. It strikes me less as racist, though, and more as tremendously counterproductive, if the goal is more Jews in Israel. The opposition to intermarriage doesn't seem to be all that different if Jews are the marginalized group, as in the Diaspora, or if the fear is that Jews will abscond with a marginalized group within Israel. If Yusuf wants to be Yossi, why not encourage this? Why take measures seemingly designed to repel the last remaining Diaspora Zionists (ahem, ahem), who had the audacity to fall in love before hopping on a Birthright party-bus. (Yes, I am slightly concerned my face made it to one of those flyers.) I mean, maybe some interfaith couples would like nothing more than to reside in Tel Aviv, subsisting on iced blended coffee and superior tomatoes and cucumbers year-round. Stories like this and I'm kind of like, fine, I will eat mealy Diasporic tomatoes, so be it.
*To those who say this cliché is ancient history, that I'm stuck hovering around 1997 culturally, well, perhaps so, but take this NYT Style list, "The 110 Things New Yorkers Talked About in 2010:" We get, on the one hand, "Chelsea Clinton marries a nice Jewish boy," and on the other, three items down, "Natalie and Benjamin." Chelsea Clinton and Natalie Portman are comparably famous, around the same age, and famous from the same age, give or take. Their dudes are both best known for being their dudes. It's not that there aren't Jewish women off with (dashing European, why not?) non-Jewish men. It's that we as a society are only interested in labeling intermarriages as such when they fit the familiar scenario. Consider also that moviegoers have yet another opportunity to meet Fockers this holiday season.