We speak to the cel­e­brated au­thor of a banned book about the love af­fair be­tween an Is­raeli and a Pales­tinian

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - MONICA PORTER

Noth­ing strikes fear into the heart of Jews as much as mar­ry­ing out

THE ONE fear that haunts Jews more than any­thing else — even more than the prospect of end­less in­tifadas or of Iran build­ing a nu­clear bomb — is that of dis­ap­pear­ing as a race, a cul­ture and a re­li­gion, through the grad­ual, peace­ful process of as­sim­i­la­tion. In a nut­shell, ‘‘mar­ry­ing out’’.

It is this dread that un­der­lies the cur­rent con­tro­versy over the book Border­life ( Gader Haya, in He­brew), about the love af­fair be­tween an Is­raeli woman and a Pales­tinian man. The 2014 novel won its au­thor, 43-year-old Dorit Rabinyan, Is­rael’s pres­ti­gious Bern­stein lit­er­ary prize, and an ad­vi­sory panel of Is­raeli aca­demics rec­om­mended that it be put on the school curriculum.

But, last month, the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry, headed by Naf­tali Ben­nett of the Zion­ist Jewish Home Party, re­jected the rec­om­men­da­tion and banned Border­life from school read­ing lists. Ben­nett stated that ‘‘in­ti­mate re­la­tions be­tween Jews and non-Jews are a threat to our sep­a­rate iden­tity’’, and ed­u­ca­tion min­istry of­fi­cial Dalia Fenig added: ‘‘Young peo­ple tend to ro­man­ti­cise and don’t have con­sid­er­a­tions about pre­serv­ing the iden­tity of the na­tion and the sig­nif­i­cance of as­sim­i­la­tion’’. But, hey, this is Is­rael, and even the son of Prime Min­is­ter Ne­tanyahu has been dat­ing a gen­tile lady from Nor­way, prompt­ing much out­rage from hard­lin­ers.

Pre­dictably, the Left and Rabinyan’s fel­low writ­ers have loudly protested against the ban. Dur­ing a visit to a mil­i­tary prep acad­emy in Sderot, Op­po­si­tion leader Isaac Her­zog dis­trib­uted copies of Border­life to stu­dents and told them they should all read it. ‘‘I asked them: ‘Tell me, are the Peo­ple of the Book afraid of books? Are the Peo­ple of the Book afraid of sto­ries?’ This is a back­ward world­view that does not be­lieve the pub­lic can make judg­ments for them­selves.’’ And vet­eran Is­raeli writer A.B. Ye­hoshua, whose novel The

also de­picts a re­la­tion­ship be­tween an Is­raeli and a Pales­tinian, said the ban not only tar­geted Rabinyan’s book but threat­ened all lit­er­a­ture.

Mean­while, need­less to say, all the brouhaha has pro­pelled Border­life to best-seller sta­tus in Is­rael. Book stores have been run­ning out of copies, a new print run is un­der way and, ap­par­ently, high­school heads have been buy­ing it for their own schools. They see it as an im­por­tant ed­u­ca­tional tool pre­cisely be­cause it ad­dresses vi­tal is­sues of con­cern to Is­raelis, of ev­ery gen­er­a­tion. How can Jews and Arabs learn to live to­gether? Can inter-faith ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ships help to forge peace in this strife­filled part of the world? Might they be a pos­i­tive rather than a dan­ger­ous thing? For if Jews and Pales­tini­ans could view each other as in­di­vid­u­als po­ten­tially wor­thy of love, doesn’t that mean things could one day change for the bet­ter?

As Rabinyan ob­served in a re­cent in­ter­view, bar­ring her book from the curriculum high­lighted the fear of “the other” among the Is­raeli po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment, and it was as if, by pre­vent­ing young­sters from read­ing a book deal­ing with the thorny sub­ject of in­ter­mar­riage, the is­sue would go away.

The story re­lated in Border­life has deep per­sonal res­o­nance for Rabinyan, as it ap­pears to have been in­spired by her own re­la­tion­ship


Shocked: writer Dorit Rabinyan

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