"No one ever thought that we'd be dealing with assimilation issues here in Israel. People who managed to educate their children abroad and feared that their kids will assimilate over there, came to Israel and now they say their kids were more Jewish abroad," said MK Avraham Michaeli (Shas) during a Knesset debate regarding assimilation in Israel on Tuesday.
"There are those who are afraid to speak out and say that we are a Jewish state first and foremost. We should strive to be democratic, but not take down the Jewish flag," said Michaeli.
Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), who chairs the Knesset's Committee on the Status of Women, led the debate held on the first ever Jewish Identity Day. She claimed that the only way to prevent assimilation is through education, in which the state is not investing enough.
"The assimilation struggle reaches headlines through stories of Jewish women marrying Muslims, but it's important to remember that this phenomenon is much broader. Over 92,000 families living in Israel are of mixed race," said Hotovely. "We need programs to teach young girls in high school about Jewish identity."
MK Michael Ben Ari (National Union) added: "The obstacle standing in our way is the legitimization of assimilation. No one sees assimilations as the downfall of the Israeli people. Golda Meir once said that a Jew who marries a non-Jew joins the six million."
Identity question or racism
MK Talab El-Sana (United Arab List-Ta'al) caused a commotion when he took the stand. "On Jewish Identity Day we should talk about the Jewish identity, but not steer off course to racism."
He added that he believes the Knesset should not decide who is allowed to marry whom. "You only bring up the problematic examples," he claimed. "There are many inter-racial couples of a Jewish man and an Arabic woman, or that of a Jewish woman with an Arab man, who live peacefully and in a dignified and beautiful manner, and then there are families made up of only Jews who are very problematic."
MK Chaim Amsellem (Shas) stated he feels the true assimilations issue is caused by over 300,000 immigrants originating from the "seed of Israel". Amsellem said the State must do all that it can to integrate them in Israel.
"The current system probably can't handle this," he said. "This problem will continue to grow. We are creating a product that has never existed – Israelis rooted in the Jewish society but aren't Jewish because the State isn't prepared."
Amsellem suggested to unify the conversion process and not separate the civil process from the military one.
Jewish vs. Democratic
Jewish Identity Day, which was devised by the rabbinical organization and its Tzohar Legislation Project, also sparked other debates, such as that held by MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin about a letter by rabbis calling on Jews not to rent homes to non-Jews.
"Sadly there are those who prefer a Jewish State rather than a democratic one, but the two components cannot be separated. Jewish identity in Israel is based on democratic values… We mustn't get carried away by some people, even in this place, who try to prove the failure of this complicated identity," he said.
Rivlin mentioned that the Knesset managed to bring in a Jewish law expert, an attorney who advises the Knesset, the committees and its members. He added that the real goal is to reinforce the status of the Jewish law in the legislation process.
"Over the years we've managed to define what is a democratic state, but so far we've failed to define what is a 'Jewish state', where does the Jewish law fit in?" asked Rivlin.
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