Mideast Romeo & Juliet? Arab-Jewish couple married amid turmoil in Israel

Mideast Romeo and Juliet? Protests swirl around wedding of Jewish woman, Muslim man in Israel

Sunday brought a different kind of pre-wedding jitters for one Israeli couple.

Instead of fretting over hairdos and guest arrangements, Morel Malka and Mahmoud Mansour spent the morning of their wedding in court, trying to keep extremists from ruining their special night.

More than 50,000 couples get married in Israel every year, but few of them make the evening news, inspire statements from the country's president or have to hire protection.

Somehow, the private intimacy of Morel and Mahmoud became a national political issue. She comes from a Jewish family. He’s a Muslim Arab.

When the Jaffa couple in their 20s posted their wedding invitation on Facebook, they just wanted to share their good news.

Instead, it attracted the attention of a group of Jewish extremists avowed to preventing mixed marriage — especially Jewish women marrying Arab men. And especially when they have converted to Islam, as Malka has done.

Run by ultra-nationalist Jewish activists, the group called Lehava is dedicated to what it calls "preventing assimilation in the Holy Land," although it works against Israel’s Arab citizens in other spheres as well. Some of its supporters openly follow the teachings of Meir Kahane, a Jewish extremist assassinated in New York in 1990. Kahane’s doctrines are outlawed in Israel as racist and various offshoots of his political party are considered terror organizations in Israel and abroad.

Members called for a demonstration outside the wedding hall in the city of Rishon Lezion on Sunday evening as the couple was being wed.

“Assimilation is nothing to celebrate,” right-wing activist Bentzi Gopstein told Israeli media.

According to local media, last month Facebook removed the group’s page following repeated complaints that it encouraged incitement and racism. Sunday evening it was back up, calling on supporters to attend the protest against the wedding.

A court granted the group permission to protest but ordered protesters to stay around 220 yards from the entrance to the wedding hall.

Although heavy police forces were deployed at the site, the family hired security guards at their own expense. The war in Gaza exacerbated an already high level of intolerance in Israel, which has exploded into violence in recent months.

Other Israelis gathered outside the wedding Sunday, but for the opposite reason.

Responding to a Facebook call to attend a "vigil of love" for Mansour and Malka's wedding, dozens of people from around the country showed their support with flowers and hand-painted signs congratulating the couple.

“This is an act of elementary humanism,” said organizer Noga Eitan. “We are here to show basic decency and sound a liberal voice,” she said, adding it was a pity that even a wedding should become a political act in Israel.

Despite bitter political differences, “incitement, violence and racism have no place in Israeli society,” said President Reuven Rivlin, who wished the couple happiness and good fortune.

In the end, the couple was married — in the presence of hundreds of guests, as well as hundreds of demonstrators and police on the sidewalks outside.

Right-wing protesters (all men) shouted their objections through bullhorns, although under the court order, they were kept away from the wedding hall. Four were detained for getting too close.

If their protest was heard, it did not stop the marriage.

"We want to have a great wedding, one that no one has ever had," the bridegroom was quoted as saying before the wedding. "No one can break us."

Sobelman is a special correspondent

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

Aug. 17, 1:05 p.m.: This post has been updated with the wedding taking place.

This article was originally posted at 12:03 p.m.

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