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Israel’s gymnastics gold medalist in the Tokyo olympics of this year, Artem Dolgopyat, only the second ever in the Jewish state’s 70 years, cannot marry in Israel. Taking advantage of the happy publicity surrounding his triumph, his mother brought the question out into the public arena. In an interview with 103FM Radio, Dolgopyat’s mother Angela Bilan said: “The state does not let him get married. He has a girlfriend and they have lived together for three years, but he cannot get married.”
The problem is not that Dolgopyat emigrated to Israel as a child – his father was the product of generations of Soviet Jews and he automatically has entitlement to Israeli citizenship. His difficulty is that his mother is not Jewish and so, according to religious law, nor is he, for the purpose of marriage.
The fact is that you can’t marry a Jewish person in Israel unless you’re Jewish too. Or a Muslim unless you’re a Muslim, Catholic unless you are a Catholic, etc. Marriage is considered exclusively a religious ceremony and mixed-religion marriages are not permitted. In a state that promotes itself as being “the only western country in the Near East”, it does not have a civil marriage ceremony or status, the only “western” state not to have such. Indeed, a number of countries of mainly Muslim population do have civil marriage too.
So what do Israelis do if one of the partners in a long-term relationship is not considered “Jewish” but wish to be married?
The answer is that they leave the state to marry outside or live as partners without marriage. Apparently both options are popular and many Jews do leave the State for a holiday and get married outside it – Cyprus is quite a popular destination for this and 1,500 to 2,000 Israelis a year get married there. That compares with about 28,000 weddings performed last year by Orthodox religious authorities in Israel. Israel does recognise civil marriages made elsewhere and indeed would get into a lot of trouble with other states if it did not.
But with regard to just living together one imagines that in the case of a relationship breakup and the absence of a recognised civil relationship, property ownership and child custody could become difficult issues to resolve. This would also be the case with same-gender marriage, since this “modern democratic state” does not recognise that class of marriage either – of course not, since its marriage service is based on Hebrew religious law.
Israel for all its modern protestations and some features is a religious state. Qualification for its citizenship is based on Judaism and the State’s recognition of that ethnicity, which is of at least one Jewish grandparent, no matter where born or raised. But for a Jew to marry in Israel both must be Jewish by Rabbinical – i.e Jewish religious – law; any child of a mixed union is not Jewish unless their mother was Jewish. Or one goes through a fairly lengthy period of religious indoctrination to be recognised by the State as Jewish.1 In effect, Israel’s citizenship and marriage laws are not only religious but racist too.
Dolgopyat’s difficulty won support from Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov, himself an immigrant from the former Soviet Union and an Olympic athlete, which he expressed in a tweet: “Israeli citizens, no matter where they are born, should not need to undergo a tedious and humiliating process in order to get approval or rejection from the Rabbinate in order to get married.”
“The pride of Israel on the podium, but a second class citizen under the hupa,” he said referring to a Jewish wedding canopy.2 “It is not logical that the Rabbinate of the same country that Artem Dolgopyat represents with honour does not allow him basic civil rights like getting married in Israel,” Razvozov tweeted.
No doubt many Israeli Jews find all this archaic and irritating. Even though 74.2% of the population of the state is registered as “Jewish”, that number however contains four major sections, ranging from the ultra-conservative to the secular. The largest group is the “traditional” Jewish one, which would have a range of opinions within it on religion and society, some quite liberal and “let and let live” (at least for Israeli Jews). In in the Pew survey3, one in five Jews replied that they do not even believe in the existence of a God.
But the fact is that for the sake of the political nature of the state, most of them have made a compact with the devil, the religious fundamentalism of the Zionists, a portion of which has infected every single Israeli administration and government coalition since the state was founded in 1948. While it is true that the religious fundamentalist part of Israel cannot get rid of the society’s more liberal and secular sections or rule without it, nor can the latter overthrow the fundamentalist religious dictatorship. Not without joining completely with the oppressed Palestinians and overthrowing the Zionist State – and even liberal and most socialist Israelis are not prepared to go that far.
1Despite the strong historical suggestion that Ashkenazi Jews are actually the result of mass conversion to Judaism in the first place.
2Obviously oblivious to those who are the most comprehensively second-class people in Israel, the Palestinians – but then they are not “citizens”, are they?
3See Source and References.
SOURCES AND REFERENCES
Israeli Olympic Gold medalist cannot marry in Israel: https://www.publico.es/internacional/medalla-oro-israel-opcion-matrimonio.html?
Religious position of Israel Jews: https://www.pewforum.org/2016/03/08/israels-religiously-divided-society/
Citizenship and ethnic nature of Israeli State: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/7/19/israel-passes-controversial-jewish-nation-state-law