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Some Israelis Upset About Chelsea Clinton’s Interfaith Marriage? Unbelievable Chutzpah *updated*

August 7, 2010

Actually, chutzpah isn’t the right word. I think “intolerant” is more appropriate in this situation.

I knew we would hear rumblings of this after the wedding although I had hoped we wouldn’t. How did I know? Well, anything that involves religion seems to bring the hate-mongers out of the woodwork. Also, prior to the wedding I read one too many articles about people opining that Chelsea should convert to Judaism (not the other way around of course), as if it’s anybody’s f*cking business how Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky choose to conduct their private lives. Some people just hate change, even if it’s positive chance which fosters understanding between races, faiths, culture etc.

In an article in Haaretz inappropriately and offensively titled “WASPs at Last,” columnist Israel Harel attempts to shroud his thinly-veiled intolerance with an emotional appeal for the survival of the Jewish people but at the end of the day, it’s still just intolerance:

…On the other side, for those who have been fearfully following the process of assimilation and disappearance that the Jewish people has undergone in America, and on other continents, this “culminating event” poured salt on open wounds. Some 90 percent of young Jews, according to recent polls, do not rule out marriage with a non-Jew. And the results are easy to see: Due to intermarriage, the number of Jews in the United States has fallen by more than a quarter since the 1960s.

[snip]

More than a few Jews, including Reform Jews, were hurt by the inclusion of ancient Jewish symbols, like the breaking of the glass, alongside Christian ones at Saturday’s wedding. Rabbi James Ponet, who officiated over this mishmash, displayed radical conformism. That is apparently linked to the dream some Jews have of pleasing the ultimate WASP, and thereby trying to solve the identity problem that lurks deep in the recesses of the Jewish soul…

[snip]

We, they say, are the proof that it is possible to be an integral part of the new American collective without conceding – as the weaker souls among us have – our uniquely Jewish national identity. We do not owe our national identity, and certainly not our religious identity, to America; the Jews have contributed no less, and perhaps even more, to America than America has contributed to the Jews. [emphasis added]

Unbelievable. Imagine for a moment if a Methodist wrote about being ‘hurt’ that a Christian symbols were being used alongside Jewish ones, as though somehow the presence of the latter somehow tarnished the former?

During an interview with Andrea Mitchell in Islamabad Pakistan, Secretary Clinton was asked about her daughter’s interfaith marriage and here is what she said:

“Over the years, so many of the barriers that prevented people from getting married, crossing lines of faith or colour or ethnicity have just disappeared,” she had said.

“Because what’s important is: ‘Are you making a responsible decision? Have you thought it through? Do you understand the consequences?’ And I think in the world that we’re in today we need more of that,” she had said.

I totally agree, “in the world that we’re in today we need more of that...” It’s too bad some are so insistent on being so intolerant, selfish and divisive, even in the face of such a positive and joyous occasion.

UPDATE: Israel’s Ynet joins in with their own paean to intolerance, going so far as to refer to the wedding ceremony as a “farce” and it makes the Haaretz article look like a tribute to tolerance:

Quite a few Israelis (as well as Americans) felt a slight sense of unease this past week in the face of photographs of America’s new young couple, Chelsea and Marc, at their interfaith marriage ceremony. More accurately, they felt uneasy seeing the groom draped with a prayer shawl and wearing a kippah alongside his wholly gentile bride.

Many intriguing questions remained open in the wake of this wedding (for example, where were the groom’s parents, or what prompted distinguished rabbi James Ponet to join the farce.)

[snip]

According to Brandeis University Professor Sylvia Barack-Fishman, who is among the most prominent researchers of US Jewry, fewer than half of all American Jewish parents actively object to this type of marriage for their children. A study by the American Jewish Committee showed that this message is gaining a foothold, may heaven help us, in the Orthodox community as well. When asked whether they will be pained should their child marry a gentile, only 84% of Orthodox respondents said it would. As it turns out, even an American parent whose Jewishness is very important to him no longer feels a pang of guilt when his son brings home a shiksa.

The question of whether this should be of any interest to us Israelis has many facets. It does interest those concerned about Judaism’s survival as a practical religion; it also interests those concerned about the Jewish people’s survival as a nation, as well as practical thinkers who believe that a unified, strong Jewish community in America is essential for the State of Israel to survive.

The more interesting question is what we can do: Regrettably, it appears that we can do very little. This problem is the hot potato of community leaders: They understand that the key has to do with guiding the parents, initiating Jewish social ventures, and of course, high-quality Jewish education. Much of the money that was spared after the collapse of our brother Madoff is currently invested in this struggle.

Again, imagine if a non-Jewish person wrote something as intolerant and condescending as that above- there would be OUTRAGE and rightly so. Of course there are many intolerant Christians- one doesn’t have to look too far to find them either, but I’ve searched for articles where the situation is reversed- where Christians are bemoaning the fact that Chelsea Clinton has been diminished somehow due to marrying a Jewish man and I haven’t found any. And yes, any such view held by Christians would be, in my view, equally unacceptable.

Of course all of these bigots are entitled to their opinion but is it possible that perhaps we are a little bit more tolerant of Jewish intolerance these days? And I am sorry, but claiming interfaith marriage poses a threat to the very survival of not only Israel, but to Jews in general, diminishes the very real persecution that Jews have faced throughout history. Such a claim is one victim bridge too far.

UPDATE II: And here’s another article referring to the wedding as a “spiritual Shoah”- yeah, Shoah, as in Holocaust. Can you inagine? No shame.

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. pcfs permalink
    August 7, 2010 3:24 pm

    I so agree with you Stacy. What a wonderful wedding we all enjoyed here last weekend. Thank havens we live in America. We all had a great weekend of love, joy and happiness. To each is own I call my own.

  2. discourseincsharpminor permalink
    August 7, 2010 3:59 pm

    So Marc Mezvinsky shouldn’t have married the woman he loves or should have forced upon her a fundamental change in her beliefs? That is wrong, Wrong, WRONG! He is no less Jewish than he was they day before he got married. By the way, this is the bit of that article that got me.

    “We do not owe our national identity, and certainly not our religious identity, to America; the Jews have contributed no less, and perhaps even more, to America than America has contributed to the Jews.”

    This is a wedding not an international peace treaty. Weddings are about two individuals, not a religion, or national identity, or the fate of any culture in general. This was not about Jews, or Americans either. It was, and is, about love and two people’s commitment to weather life’s storms together.

    Israel Harel, never has the phrase “it’s not about you,” been more well-deserved.

  3. HillaryFan permalink
    August 7, 2010 5:18 pm

    That is repulsive. Interesting these hateful views haven’t found their way into the American media. I bet if it was someone talking in such a derogatory manner about Marc, there would be widespread condemnation.

  4. Steve permalink
    August 7, 2010 5:22 pm

    Sadly, I’m not the slightest bit surprised. Don’t kid yourself into thinking this viewpoint only exists in Israel- it doesn’t. Many conservative American Jews believe that Jews should never marry non-Jews.

    And thank you Stacy for having the courage to call out the reprehensible use of the victim card – that they use the Holocaust and Jewish fears of annihilation to attempt to provide some legitimacy to their intolerance is shameful.

    Just wait until they have kids- then we’ll really see the hate fly.

  5. AsherLev permalink
    August 7, 2010 5:25 pm

    The reason the media doesn’t cover it is because they don’t want to risk American Jews losing their romantic view of Israel. A view that bears little relation to reality and which would be difficult for liberal American Jews to stomach. Maybe. Or who knows, maybe not. Here in Israel we keep waiting for you Americans to get fed up with our antics, our disrespect and our bigotry but you never seem to. In fact, you seem to take an active role in covering it up.

  6. AsherLev permalink
    August 7, 2010 5:31 pm

    The real Israel:

    http://maxblumenthal.com/2010/07/the-summer-camp-of-destruction-israeli-high-schoolers-join-in-the-destruction-of-a-bedouin-town/

    http://maxblumenthal.com/2010/08/1963-survey-majority-of-israeli-jewish-youth-could-support-genocide-against-arabs/

    Not so romantic, is it? We are already erecting an apartheid system and are trying to force the Arabs off the land and into the arms of our Arab neighbors. Given that Arabs lives are viewed as worth less than Israeli lives, how long until ethnic cleansing begins? Or has it already begun?

  7. August 7, 2010 6:18 pm

    I am not surprised if the US media isn’t covering this because they are typically hesitant to publish anything that could lead to US public opinion turning against Israel. Look at the coverage of the aid boat attack as one example. We all know there are many other examples. Imagine if leading Muslim publications were criticizing the newlywed couple for something. You think that wouldn’t be all over the US press?

  8. Tovah permalink
    August 7, 2010 8:11 pm

    Shameful.

    What I can’t help but notice about all three of the articles is how they refer to non-Jews in such a derogatory manner- almost like they are daring someone to say something about it. If anyone takes offense, the justification will be our years of persecution, as if that makes such bigotry and narrow-mindedness ok.

    Stacy when you said “Such a claim is one victim bridge too far” you are absolutely right. I think that by using the Holocaust some are expecting, perhaps correctly, that they will not be called out on their intolerance. Here in the US, I think non-Jews are afraid to really confront things like this out of fear of either being insensitive to collective Jewish suffering or worse, being labeled an anti-Semite. It’s really sickening that some would use the Holocaust as such a cynical ploy.

    I really think Israel has become its own worst enemy.

    Asher- those articles are REALLY upsetting.

  9. PYW permalink
    August 7, 2010 8:32 pm

    I did see an article in the New York Times earlier this week about some Jews having mixed feelings about interfaith marriages, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as these three.

    • Tovah permalink
      August 8, 2010 9:06 am

      Was it in the context of the Clinton wedding? I think people should mind their own business. If people oppose interfaith marriage then fine, don’t marry people of other faiths but to write about disapproving of someone ELSE’S marriage is really inappropriate in my opinion.

      • PYW permalink
        August 8, 2010 6:01 pm

        Yes, it was in the context of the wedding.

  10. filipino-american4hrc permalink
    August 8, 2010 1:50 am

    This is a great piece, Stacey! And you’re right — bigotry is bigotry, whether in the name of Yahweh, Allah or God, and should be condemned and not be given any wiggle room to determine the private decisions of individuals. . .I give credit to Chelsea and Marc for standing by their respective faiths and making it part of their relationship. It shows two self-assured individuals who know who and what they are, and what they want from life and from each other.

    • August 8, 2010 1:01 pm

      Thanks. For the record, the only reason I find this newsworthy is that they are targeting a high profile daughter of the U.S. Secretary of State and they have chosen to do so in a very public way. Also, there are quite a few of these articles floating around so it’s not just like one person who takes exception to marriage and how the ceremony was carried out. The more digging I did, the more I found.

      As I said in the post, people who believe that there should be no interfaith marriages certainly have a right to that belief and it’s not like this view is only held by one religion- almost every faith except for Buddhism seems to view this issue with a wee bit of intolerance. In fact, it’s sort of the nature of organized religion to jealously guard who is and who isn’t a member of the club. With Judaism it is a tad more complicated because of a) the horrendous history of persecution and the huge decrease in the number of European Jews during the Holocaust and also b) the fact that Judaism and being Jewish is viewed not only as a religion but to many also as a cultural identity with a matrilineal aspect. Or something like that. I’m no expert.

      The other reason I found it newsworthy was that I was somewhat shocked by how disparaging the views expressed in the articles were with respect to Chelsea’s not being Jewish. It’s one thing to say “well, a lot of people are uncomfortable with mixed faith marriages” but quite another to use this particular marriage as a metaphor for a “spiritual Shoah” and to refer to her Christianity as an almost offensive thing that could taint Marc’s Jewishness. It’s almost as though they were inferring Marc married Chelsea because he wanted to fit in with the WASP crowd and I’m sorry, but in this day and age, at least in the U.S. that just doesn’t fly. And again, had a Christian (or Muslim) written about Marc’s Judaism in that same way, I think we’d be hearing a lot more about it.

  11. Tovah permalink
    August 8, 2010 12:38 pm

    Lately, we Jews are taking a bad PR hit- whether it’s the antics of Bibi Netanyahu or Abe Foxman of the ADL joining forces with the likes of Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and the neocons over the Islamic Center at Ground Zero or this fear of assimilation nonsense, we are looking rather intolerant. Naturally none of the above is representative of all Jews but unless more of us speak out we run the risk of guilt by association.

    Honestly, I think a lot of this is generational. It looks like those commentaries were not written by young Israeli Jews and Abe Foxman is 71. I’m 30 and my parents hold much more conservative views than I do- on Israel, on religion and a whole host of issues. Also, many of the people who are “hurt” by Marc’s marrying a “shiksa” are likely conservative/orthodox or Haredi.

    What Israel doesn’t seem to understand is that the U.S. is much more of a melting pot than Israel is- and it’s this way on purpose- we see it as our greatest strength, where Israel fears assimilation and is almost paranoid about the number of Jews within her border, almost to the point of being intolerant of other religions and ethnicities.

    • August 8, 2010 1:05 pm

      Tovah, I think you are right about the generational aspect. It’s also a good point about the pluralistic nature of American society vs. Israeli society which seems to view pluralism as an existential threat. Rather sad really.

      Along those same lines, I think Abe Foxman should retire. Honestly, he’s been at the ADL so long and he’s starting to sound really out of touch with modern American society.

  12. rachel permalink
    August 8, 2010 1:01 pm

    What a shame what a freaking shame. In some of the articles I read it was like marc was lowering him self to marrying her. One article was like we can’t lose beatufiul jewish soles like marc and denegrating the clintons least they forget BOTH chelsea and marc family’s have had some storms. I have read only one article where there were supposedly some swastikas on a stop sign in reinbeck where they got married, nothing else. It’s a wonder they just can’t be happy that one of their fellow jews found happiness.

  13. Steve permalink
    August 8, 2010 3:01 pm

    You want to know what is wrong with the current Israeli government? Read this article from Haaretz about how Shimon Peres offending all of the UK by claiming England is an anti-Semitic, anti-Israel country where politicians “pander” to Arabs. He says Israel’s “next big problem is England…”

    Next big problem? No Mr. Peres, you have enough big problems without creating more. England is not a problem, it is a staunch ally who you have offended, like you have offended so many other staunch allies. Peres is getting too old for this job, he just comes out with whacked out things. Although unfortunately, this seems to be the Israeli mindset, that even our friends are our enemies, which perhaps is why Israel is going out of its way to alienate itself further from Turkey and Jordan, two other allies. Israel has enough legitimate enemies that it doesn’t need to run around creating more. It’s almost like some Israeli leaders want to believe that everyone is against them, even when that is clearly not the case. I even think the right wing in Israel is afraid of peace- who will they have to blame when the long occupation and war is over? They might have to take a long look in the mirror and ask themselves if they are living up to the founding principles of Israel.

    http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/peres-sparks-u-k-backlash-after-labeling-england-anti-semitic-1.305277

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