A heated debate took place on Monday afternoon at the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, Hebrew media reported, after Jewish Home lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich spoke out against intermarriage and defended an Orthodox organization that had reportedly acted against mixed marriages between Jewish women and Muslim men.
Committee chairwoman MK Aida Touma-Sliman of the predominantly Arab Joint List party ordered security to remove Smotrich, claiming that he was inciting against Arabs.
The meeting focused on an ultra-Orthodox nonprofit organization, Hemla (Hebrew for “compassion”), that runs a state-funded home in Jerusalem for religious women with personal and family problems.
A 2011 report by the Haaretz newspaper claimed that Hemla was in fact an ideologically motivated group, with one of its stated goals being to “help girls from broken homes who are in danger of forced conversion,” and that most of the women in its hostel had been “rescued” from relationships with Arabs.
The report also asserted that the association was closely affiliated with Lehava, a radical far-right organization that opposes intermarriage and seeks to stifle public activity by non-Jews in Israel. According to the report, Lehava’s head, Bentzi Gopstein, also served as public relations director for Hemla.
Touma-Sliman contended that it was hard to understand why Hemla was being funded by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services, as its activity appeared to be ideology-based rather than welfare-oriented. She quoted a publication by the organization published almost 15 years ago that claimed it was safeguarding women “before they reach the village and have baby Ahmeds.”
Representatives of the home insisted that it was not connected with Lehava, and that it currently houses no women who had been in relationships with Arab men.
Smotrich used his time to speak in defense of Hemla, claiming that as long as the organization was helping people in need, there was no reason to examine the views of its managers.
He then lashed out against Touma-Sliman. “Preventing assimilation in the Jewish state is completely legitimate and not at all racist,” he said. “You are assuming as a basis for the discussion that preventing intermarriage is wrong, while ignoring the fact that most girls who go with Arabs are poor girls who are being used.”
Smotrich was immediately kicked out of the meeting by Touma-Sliman. Smotrich, she said, had used his very first appearance at the Committee on the Status of Women to “continue his incitement against Arabs, rather than dealing with the question of whether the Ministry of Social Affairs was properly supervising an organization that operates a care home for teenage women and announces that its goal is to ‘rescue them from the danger of forced conversion.'”
Smotrich alleged that the committee chairwoman had removed him simply because she disagreed with the views he expressed, and accused her of McCarthyism.
“MK Sliman’s exploitation of the committee to promote her political agenda is inappropriate,” he said. “Whoever claims that opposing assimilation is racism has a severe identity problem, and definitely does not represent the vast majority of Jews in Israel. The Jewish people have preserved themselves for thousands of years and it is our duty to ensure this continues in the Jewish state.”