Impossible love? Mixed marriages in contemporary Israel
In 2004, The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada published a note called « Israel: Mixed-marriage couples and families (particularly of an Arab husband and a Jewish wife); reports of such couples being targeted by Orthodox Jewish groups or any difficulties they may face; protection and recourse available »
While the exact number of marriages between Arabs and Jews is unknown (and, in all likeliness, marginal), mixed couples usually made of an Israeli Arab man and a Jewish woman exist and experience fierce opposition in contemporary Israel. The opposition they face is threefold.
LEGAL: The only marriages recognized by the state of Israel are those between people who share the same faith, that is, co-religionists.
RELIGIOUS: In Israel, religious authorities are those who legally perform weddings. Since Jewish law prohibits marriage between Jews and non-Jews, rabbis will not officiate at an interreligious marriage. The mixed couple’s recourse is either conversion of the non-Jewish spouse or marrying abroad.
SOCIETAL: Society’s prejudice and discrimination against mixed marriages are countless. They not only face prejudice at the state level (spouse’s citizenship application suddenly frozen), they also experience harassment at a personal level: bullying including physical assault and multiple problems in daily living (landlord’s denial to provide housing, children daycare center’s application refusal, …)
However, interreligious marriages are not the only ones that experience discrimination in Israel. In 2009, the newspaper Haaretz revealed that Israelis were not comfortable with interracial marriages particularly with the prospect of one of their own children marrying an Ethiopian Jew. Fifty-seven percent said it would be entirely unacceptable for their daughters to marry an Ethiopian, and 39 percent said so regarding their sons. Avi Masfin, the deputy director of the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, says the opposition to interracial / intercultural marriage comes from both sides.
"I think from the standpoint of Israeli society generally and from the standpoint of those of Ethiopian origin, it will take time until there is readiness for intermarriage. Portions of the Ethiopian community itself are conservative and have concerns." (Note : about 90% of Ethiopians in Israel marry within their community)
Impossible love in contemporary Israel for mixed couples? But what about intercultural marriage between spouses originally from countries that are / or have been at war against one another? What is the recourse for such couples when their cultures and countries have been fiercely opposed to one another? How can they live as a couple and endure societal pressure when they live in their own or their spouse’s country?
Often, the only alternative is to live in a third country and develop a third culture, far from the critical eye of their relatives or customs of their country of origin. Psychiatrist Tseng speaks of a creative adjustment. In effect, when both spouses agree to give up their cultural behaviour, they will eventually open the space for the creation of a new behaviour pattern:
“Sometimes this method of solution is chosen because there is too much conflict or competition existing between both cultural patterns and there is little chance for negotiation. Therefore, trying a completely new way will avoid such confrontations. Sometimes this phenomenon occurs because the two cultural behaviours are not only different but conflicting; one is insulting to the other. Then it is necessary to try a third one even in a very random way.” (Tseng, in Adjustment in Intercultural Marriage, ed. Weh-Shing Tseng, et al. p.101)
Is living in a third country and developing a third culture a win-win situation for such couples? While it seems to be a win-win situation, in reality, it is a more of a loss-loss. Both spouses will have to give up something, often, part of their ethnic heritage. Worst, because of their situation, spouses have to deny some parts of their cultures to their children, who will, therefore, become culturally "poor" without a sense of belonging. The price of this model is often huge for the couple, their children, and their families. (Romano, in Intercultural Marriages, p.173)