Sleeping with the Enemy: Anti-Miscegenation and Sexual Economies of Terror in Colonial Israel

by Sarah Emilia Garcia

On July 20, 2010 Saber Kushour was convicted of “rape by deception” and sentenced to 18 months in prison by an Israeli court. An Israeli woman with whom he had consensual sex discovered that he was not Jewish as she had thought, but Palestinian, and pressed charges. In the verdict, Jerusalem district court judge Tzvi Segal wrote that although this wasn’t “a classical rape by force” and the sex was consensual, the consent itself was obtained through deception and under false pretenses. “The court is obliged to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price – the sanctity of their bodies and souls,” Segal added (The Guardian, Haaretz, 2010). Ironically, the discourse of the court ruling bears a striking resemblance to that of Nazi Nuremburg Laws that sought to “protect German blood and honor,” as Agamben has put it in Remnants of Auschwitz (Zone Books, 2002, p. 149), banning, among other things, sexual intercourse between non-Jewish Germans and those defined as Jews.

Agamben points out that racial laws politicize private life. Yet Israel is larger than the state, and the architects of Israeli occupation are not completely articulated or encapsulated by the state apparatus. Although no explicit anti-miscegenation law currently exists, Israel’s moves towards becoming an ethnocracy normalize anti-miscegenation practices carried out by Israeli juridical and political institutions and a complex array of civil society and non-state actors, with far-reaching consequences both within the boundaries of the Green Line and the contested Palestinian territories. Local authorities in Petah Tikva, for example, a city near Tel Aviv, recently established a team of youth counselors and psychologists whose duty it is to identify young Jewish women dating Palestinian men in order to “rescue” them.  The municipality also sponsors a telephone hotline where friends and family members can call in to “inform” on Jewish girls who date Palestinian men. Throughout Israel and increasingly in illegal West Bank settlements, young Jewish men have formed vigilante groups to end relationships between Jewish women and Palestinian men.

Anti-miscegenation practices—those both sanctioned by the state and carried out by a variety of civil society actors— emerge as one in a constellation of Israeli technologies of power aiming to control biological life. Anti-miscegenation, in accordance with the American Heritage Dictionary definition of miscegenation, is here conceived as the prevention of (1) the mixture of different races and (2) sexual relations or marriage involving persons of different races.  This points to the role of libidinal economy and sexuality in the continued ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the construction of Israel as a Jewish ethnocracy.  They are a window into the tension between Israel’s projection as a liberal and post-racial democracy, and its reality as a settler society that aspires to whiteness, with all the racism that such a desire entails.

The body is always implicated in the remaking of space. In the Zionist imaginary and settler colonial project of transforming the physical landscape of Palestine, control of the body, regulation of sexuality and corporeal interaction become critical objectives in the project of making and remaking space. Israeli construction of physical spatial barriers that bar corporeal interaction have contributed to a policing of Israeli and Palestinian identities and sexuality, in what David Theo Goldberg has pointed to as the militarization of the social.

Israelis living both within and outside the borders of the green line are intimately connected as founders of the Zionist political order who “carry their sovereignty with them” (Veracini 2010: 3). Vigilante policing of sexuality by non-state actors that take on the work the state cannot do itself arises at the very moment that a physical racial segregation wall is being constructed precisely because these walls are always penetrable and contested. It follows from Goldberg’s account of walls in the seminar that “walling” is simultaneously an attempt to fix in place Israeli claims to Palestinian land and resources and to order Israeli and Palestinian socialities.

Anti-miscegenation labors in the continued production of Jewish purity as racial whiteness, and the production of the Israeli state as a white Jewish national body.  Just as the symbolic value of white identity has been manifested in calls to protect libidinal economy in other settler colonial states (the United States and South Africa being prime examples), anti-miscegenation practices in Israel evidence the manifold anxieties affixed to the material desires of Israeli nation building.  The material necessity and the visceral psychology of Jewish racial purity become galvanized in the political climate of Israeli terror—to such an extent that the visceral is just as easily attached to the material, as the psychology of racial purity becomes a material imperative.

Referenced: Veracini, Lorenzo. Settler Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview.  Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.