Exogamous relationships tap into multiple tensions across various levels. On a micro level these can occur within the family and the direct social surrounding. On the meso level of the executive – that is the legalese applying level of bureaucracy – raw areas can find their expression in the habitus and praxis of case workers, who apply the laws of the macro level which define the legal structure marriage provisions, right to family reunion, access to residence or citizenship constitute legalised limits. Generally, these relationships trigger the expression of deeply held, though often unreflected attitudes across different structural levels of any society. In the course the reactions reveal interplays, and more so that macro-, meso- and micro levels are not independent of each other (Behar 1996; Marcus 1995). This paper will focus on foreign, non-Jewish partners and spouses of Israeli Jews to put flesh to this abstract argument, and to demonstrate in due course that the situation of these partners and spouses, who are Europeans in their majority (Kranz 2015), cannot be understood without filtering in the (colonial) history of Israel, Jewish (diaporic) history and the present situation of the Jewish diaspora as well as the geopolitical situation of Israel.
The territory of the current State of Israel had been part of the Ottoman Empire before it became part of the British Mandate of Palestine, and before specific areas of the Mandate became the State of Israel in 1948. This new, Jewish majority state, upheld the dual legal structure of the Ottoman Empire. Affairs of personal status remained under the auspices of the respective religious authorities. In practice this means that Israel does not have a provision for civil marriage, and only individuals of the same ethno-religion might marry while inter-ethno-inter-religious marriages are impossible to officiate. In detail this legal framework means that individuals of the same ethno-religion, and regardless of their citizenship, might marry, while citizens of Israel who want to intermarry across this boundary cannot marry in ‘their’ country, and those of no recognised religion cannot marry either. Based on this restrictive as well as problematic legal framework, Israeli citizens who cannot marry their prospective spouse, or do not want to marry religiously in Israel marry abroad. A civil marriage from a country with which Israel has bilateral treaties will be recognised in Israel, resulting in ‘impossible’ intermarriages turning into ‘real’ marriages in Israel by virtue to interstate legalese.
However, this scenario reveals the very tension of the – only superficially – secular concept of citizenship with other domestic and – obviously – religious forms of societal organisation. This mix turns the private political and vice versa. The vast majority of a representative sample of all Israeli citizens across all ethno-religious groups hold negative attitudes towards intermarriage (HaAretz 2014), and more than 80% of all Israeli Jews prefer for a rabbi to officiate their wedding (Triger 2012).
These general tendencies showed in the tumults that surrounded the wedding of an Israeli Jewish woman who converted to Islam to marry her Israeli Arab Muslim boyfriend in Israel in March 2014. The incidents surrounding the wedding revealed that the aversion towards intermarriage stems from two major sources, one domestic, the other historic/extraterritorial. The domestic source that feeds the rejection of intermarriage bases on the problematic relationship between the Israeli Jewish majority, and the Israeli Arab Muslim minority. Depending on the current political situation the latter is perceived of more or less of a threat. The second source is less tangible but as forceful, it feed on the history of the Jewish diaspora, and the on-going minority situation of Jews in the diaspora. Intermarriage was, and remains, a fraught subject. It challenges the boundaries of the Jewish family and with it the transmission of family based practices of Jewish religious as well as secular Jewish habits, it cuts through the dense family and kinship network, and it might, in the long run, pave the way into complete assimilation.
Yet, Israeli Jews – like diaspora Jews before state foundation, and to date – enter relationships with non-Jews domestically, and across ethno-religious and national boundaries. If a Jew who is eligible under the Law of Return (1970) immigrates to Israel (‘make aliyah’) he or she can immigrate with their non-Jewish spouse, and their children. These are included under the Law of Return, and like the eligible Jew they obtain Israeli citizenship with immediate effect. The partners and spouses of Israeli Jewish citizens do not enjoy this luxury. Together with their Israeli Jewish partner or spouse they might apply for a partner visa with the Israeli ministry of the interior to obtain a non-resident visa initially. After varying periods of time partners and spouses might apply for permanent residence, and subsequently for Israeli citizenship based on section 7 of the Israeli Nationality Law. Yet, the decision to issue any visa, as well Israeli citizenship lies at the full discretion of the ministry of the interior, foreclosing legal certainty. Mutual citizen children, even if born in Israel, do not change the resident status of a non-Jewish immigrant parent, leading to the scenario that if a parent on an Israeli citizen child has no permanent, independent residence but the relationship to the Israeli partner breaks down both, foreign, non-Jewish parents, and the citizen minor might not be able to remain in Israel. The visa depends on the relationship to a significant other who is an Israeli, and not on parenthood an Israeli citizen child.
As legal certainty does not exist due to the full discretion of the ministry of the interior over matters of visa issuance and citizenship provisions for non-Jews, a non-Jewish foreign partner or spouse can only accumulate ‘quasi-citizenship capital’ by way of the relationship to an Israeli citizen, because as non-Jews they lack ‘ethnic capital’ to acquire Israeli citizenship in their own right. If the ‘quasi-citizenship capital’ lapses by way of the break down of a relationship the state has no interest in keeping the non-Jewish immigrant in the country. This is most obvious with those who do not have children, their visa lapses immediately upon the breakdown of the relationship, and without the option to apply for an extension based on a relationship. This legal framework and with it the applied praxis to issue visas based on directives allows the expression of possibly unconscious, and unreflected attitudes of caseworkers. The journalist Naomi Darom (2013) reported on abuses, and intransparence of the bureaucratic procedures, the anthropologist Dani Kranz (2015) replicated her finds with long-term ethnographic fieldwork. Both accounts show the fit between the macro-structural legal framework that is set up to privilege those defined as Jews by the state, and the meso-level of bureaucracy which replicate widely held attitudes, which are neither in favour of intermarriage, nor in favour of permanent non-Jewish immigration to Israel.
If a non-Jewish, foreign partner or spouse develops a connection to their surrounding in Israel is not a matter of the legal framework, and bureaucratic experiences though. As long-term ethnographic fieldwork in Israel revealed it is the micro-level of the everyday that allows for, or works against feeling homely and developing a belonging, and the integrative force lies with the Israeli Jewish partner/spouse and his/her family. By way of integration into the family a whole range of connecting options to social, informal networks open up within the wider familial network, and to friends of the family, which are key to survival in a family-centric country. If the family of the Israeli Jewish spouse rejects the immigrating, foreign, non-Jewish partner or spouse, the integration is more difficult, and often remains patchy. This key different between integration and limited integration is most obvious with partners/spouses who had to leave Israel again because their relationship break down, but who had been highly integrated into the familial structures Israel, and who had built a life in the country.
This integration is the more remarkably as it constitutes a triple challenge to all three levels, ranging from legal, to bureaucratic, to social and with it an ethno-sexual boundary (Nagel 2007). Yet, although all of these levels played a strong role in the experiences of the non-Jewish, foreign spouses and partners, their pre-migration biographies, and their individual, psychological make up were as important. The substantial majority of all partners/spouses came from countries of the global north, the vast majority was white, had been part of the ethnic majority in their native countries, and fell within the OECD definition of ‘highly qualified.’ Within the Israeli context they were entered a minority situation in an ethno-nationalistically defined country, where whiteness remains a capital, but where non-Jewishness is a stigma, where core identities and sense of belonging base on the family, and the wider kinship system. This ties in directly with the high cohesion of Israeli Jewish families which, in the diaspora were the source of support, recreation and procreation, and which replicates in the high cohesion of Israeli Jewish society.
In order to explicate and analyse the three different levels and their intersection, the paper will first go into the macro-level and its colonial background, then it will go into the meso-level and the experiences of the non-Jewish partners and spouses with it, and in the final, ethnographic part it will delve into the life-worlds of the non-Jewish partners/spouses to show how inclusion, exclusion, marginalisation but as well belonging and homeliness come into being.
Dani Kranz is an associate professor of sociology and empirical research methods at the University of Applied Sciences Rhein-Waal, Germany. Trained in social anthropology, history, and social psychology, she developed specialisations in the anthropology of migration, intergenerational transmission, legal anthropology, and interethnic (couple) relationships. She has been conducting long-term fieldwork in Germany and Israeli, and published extensively on these countries. Her latest publications are ‘Where to Stay and Where to Go? Ideas of home and homelessness amongst Third Generation Jews who grew up in Germany,’ in In the Shadows of the Shadows of the Holocaust: Narratives of the Third Generation, (eds.), Esther Jilovsky, Jordy Silverstein & David Slucki, 179-208. London: Vallentine Mitchell, 2015, and P’robing the boundaries of Jewishness, of Israelisness, or provoking of both? Current intermarried couples in Israel,’ in Boundaries, Identity and Belonging in Modern Judaism, (eds.) Larry Ray and Maria Diemling, 177-192. London: Routledge, 2015.