Ken Livingstone--"What a Load of Crap!"

Mayor Ken Livingstone is in trouble again, this time for saying of two Londoners (the Reuben brothers), who have lived in London since the 1950s when they immigrated as teenagers, "if they're not happy, perhaps they could always go back to Iran and see if they do better under the Ayatollahs." The Reubens are not, in fact, Iranian, but Bagdadi (Iraqi) Jews born in Bombay, India. Livingstone has been sparring with the Reubens over some development issues. It's not clear why he thought they were Iranian, or whether he realized they were Jewish, but regardless, it's hardly becoming of London's mayor to tell immigrants to "go back where they came from."

Meanwhile, I ran across the following quote from Livingstone: "But I was amazed to discover for example only a couple of months ago that in Israel a Jew can't marry an Arab. What a load of crap!" A load of crap indeed, for this isn't quite accurate. To avoid religious conflict, when the British controlled Palestine they left family law in the hands of each community's religious authorities. When Israel was established, they kept the British system, probably for the same reason. Thus, the issue isn't whether a Jew can marry an Arab, which implies racism, but whether a Jew can marry a Muslim. Since neither the Muslim nor the Jewish religious authorities allow such a marriage, such a marriage is not recognized by the state if performed in Israel. Indeed, an immigrant from the CIS who has a Jewish father but not a Jewish mother can't marry a Jew in Israel, because this individual is not Jewish under Jewish religious law. And as far as I know, a Druze Arab can't marry a Sunni Arab in Israel. On the other hand, an Arab Muslim who converts to Judaism can get married by a rabbi to a Jew in Israel, and an Israeli Jew who converts to Islam can get married by an Imam to an Arab in Israel. So, there is no "racial" aspect to the law.

Of course, I am against these laws, and there is a strong movement in Israel to permit civil marriage. In the meantime, couples who can't get religious approval to marry in Israel take a short plane ride to Cyprus and get married there; such marriages abroad are fully recognized by Israeli authorities.

In short, Israel should get rid of the religious monopoly on marriage in Israel, but Livingstone, known as a strong critic of Israel, should get his facts straight.

UPDATE: Some commentators below suggest that a Muslim man is permitted to marry a non-Muslim women under Islamic law, though Muslim women are not permitted to marry non-Muslim men. I'm not sure how, if at all, this affects the ability of Jewish women to get married to Muslim men in Israel.