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Israel: Converts to Islam on the rise as Jewish group vows to show 'a way out'

Palestinian Muslims pray during the first Friday Prayer of Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Al-Aqsa Mosque after Israeli authorities allowed Palestinians only those who above 40 years of age men and all women, in Jerusalem on 18 May, 2018 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]
Muslims in Jerusalem on 18 May 2018 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]

An Israeli organisation which opposes mixed marriages between Jews and Arabs plans to help converts to Islam who have "lost their way" and thus prevent what they believe is Jewish assimilation with non-Jews in Israel.

According to a report by Sputnik News, Lehava, which many perceive to be an alt-right movement accused of incitement and even terrorism, is committed to helping women in particular go back into the fold of Judaism after marrying Israeli Arab men and converting to Islam.

Anat Gopstein co-founded the organisation with her husband in 2005. She claims to receive five requests a day for help; some come from women who have converted and want to find a way out, while others are submitted by families or acquaintances who have highlighted claims about abusive relationships. The organisation also works to assist vulnerable women from problematic backgrounds as they attempt to reintegrate into society.

"It's hard to give official numbers but we do know that the cases of conversion are on the rise, simply because the assimilation process in Israel has been on the rise too," explained Gopstein. "The way it works is that women end up converting because they get married to Muslim men, and it presents a problem for us because they are gentiles who take our women away from Judaism."

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Although up-to-date statistics are hard to come by, in 2006 it was reported that the number of Jewish converts to Islam in Israel had almost doubled to 70 compared to three years earlier. Since then, the figures have continued to grow. Between 2005 and 2007, 250 Israelis officially converted to Islam, many of whom were women.

According to Judaism, children from mixed families inherit their Jewishness from their mother. However, for Gopstein's group this is still problematic. "[Because they live with their Arab fathers] these kids will end up marrying Arabs when they grow up and that means they will eventually drop out from Judaism. But even if we set this aside, think of these children. They are born and raised by two conflicting societies, and very often they find themselves unwanted by either of them."

In 2018, Jewish journalist Mahdi Majeed converted to Islam and referred to Israel as the "Zionist state" despite previously describing it as a beacon of democracy in the region. He acknowledged that Israelis have a right to live in peace without war against Palestinians.

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