With national elections less than two weeks away, political campaign videos are much in the news. A few days ago Noam Sheizaf wrote about the Balad party video that was banned, allegedly for mocking Hatikvah, the national anthem. Now Shas, the Mizrachi ultra-Orthodox party that is predominantly Moroccan, is getting some heat for a campaign video that some have decried as racist.
In an image that Mordecai Richler and Philip Roth would recognize, the video shows a short, swarthy, curly-haired man standing next to a gorgeous, statuesque blonde under the huppah, or marriage canopy. Behind them stands a stern-looking security guard, arms folded over his chest. Relatives frame the couple on either side. According to the script in the video (subtitled in English, below), the blonde’s name is Marina and she’s just obtained a quickie conversion, courtesy of Avigdor Lieberman’s party, Yisrael Beiteinu.
In broken, heavily-accented Hebrew, she tells him that all she has to do is dial 1-800-CONVERT on the fax machine while they’re standing under the huppah and - voila! – a conversion certificate pops out.
Intermarriage is a big no-no amongst religious and traditional Jews. Traditionally, Jews are not enthusiastic about converts, either. The Israeli rabbinate makes conversion a very onerous process that includes months of living under scrutiny in an Orthodox community. Non-Orthodox conversions are not accepted. Civil marriage performed in Israel is not legally binding, but there is a loophole — getting married abroad, then registering the union with the Ministry of Interior, thus bypassing the religious authorities.
But if the mother is not Jewish, the state will not recognize the children as Jewish. This can be meaningless or problematic, depending on how attached one is to having officials bless rites of passage like weddings, coming of age, army service and death / burial.
For some non-practicing Jews, the religion of their spouse is immaterial. This drives the ultra-Orthodox crazy, because it goes against a central precept of their religious and cultural practice — i.e., keeping the bloodline pure.
Like the secular-liberal parties, Yisrael Beiteinu advocates civil marriage, since a fairly large percentage of its constituents are halakhically non-Jewish. Israel defines a Jew for immigration purposes as someone who has a single Jewish grandparent on either side of the family, while according to halakha the identity is strictly matrilineal. Once in Israel, the halakhically non-Jewish Jews resent being made to feel less Israeli — hence the party’s name, which means Israel is Our Home. The name could’ve been “Israel’s OUR home too, dammit!” or “Israel’s Our Home and Don’t You Tell Us Otherwise!” (but that’s a bit long for a political party’s name).
It could very well be that Shas and its followers are worried about keeping the bloodlines pure. But there are other issues as well. Shas’s constituents tend to come from the socio-economic class that is now locked in its third generation of deprivation, living in neglected development towns, increasingly unemployed and impoverished. It took Shas considerable time to work its way into political prominence, using methods similar to the Muslim Brotherhood’s (free kindergartens, food distribution in poor neighborhoods and so on). Now Shas is competing with Yisrael Beiteinu for votes, power and perqs. That’s got to rankle.
Also, it’s kind of funny to see yet another reprise of that cliched image — the blonde “shikseh” tempting the swarthy Jewish boy away from his people.