by Jonathan Cook in Nazareth
A group of Jews and Arabs are
fighting in the Israeli courts to be recognised as “Israelis”, a
nationality currently denied them, in a case that officials fear may
threaten the country’s self-declared status as a Jewish state.
Israel refused to recognise an
Israeli nationality at the country’s establishment in 1948, making an
unusual distinction between “citizenship” and “nationality”. Although
all Israelis qualify as “citizens of Israel”, the state is defined as
belonging to the “Jewish nation”, meaning not only the 5.6 million
Israeli Jews but also more than seven million Jews in the diaspora.
Critics say the special status
of Jewish nationality has been a way to undermine the citizenship rights
of non-Jews in Israel, especially the fifth of the population who are
Arab. Some 30 laws in Israel specifically privilege Jews, including in
the areas of immigration rights, naturalisation, access to land and
Arab leaders have also long
complained that indications of "Arab" nationality on ID cards make it
easy for police and government officials to target Arab citizens for
The interior ministry has
adopted more than 130 possible nationalities for Israeli citizens, most
of them defined in religious or ethnic terms, with “Jewish” and “Arab”
being the main categories.
The group’s legal case is being
heard by the supreme court after a district judge rejected their
petition two years ago, backing the state’s position that there is no
The head of the campaign for
Israeli nationality, Uzi Ornan, a retired linguistics professor, said:
“It is absurd that Israel, which recognises dozens of different
nationalities, refuses to recognise the one nationality it is supposed
The government opposes the case,
claiming that the campaign’s real goal is to “undermine the state’s
infrastructure” -- a presumed reference to laws and official
institutions that ensure Jewish citizens enjoy a privileged status in
Known and very popular cialis coupon which gives all the chance to receive a discount for a preparation which has to be available and exactly cialis coupons has been found in the distant room of this big house about which wood-grouses in the houses tell.
Mr Ornan, 86, said that denying a
common Israeli nationality was the linchpin of state-sanctioned
discrimination against the Arab population.
“There are even two laws -- the
Law of Return for Jews and the Citizenship Law for Arabs -- that
determine how you belong to the state,” he said. “What kind of democracy
divides its citizens into two kinds?”
Yoel Harshefi, a lawyer
supporting Mr Ornan, said the interior ministry had resorted to creating
national groups with no legal recognition outside Israel, such as
“Arab” or “unknown”, to avoid recognising an Israeli nationality.
In official documents most
Israelis are classified as “Jewish” or “Arab”, but immigrants whose
status as Jews is questioned by the Israeli rabbinate, including more
than 300,000 arrivals from the former Soviet Union, are typically
registered according to their country of origin.
“Imagine the uproar in Jewish
communities in the United States, Britain or France, if the authorities
there tried to classify their citizens as “Jewish” or “Christian”,” said
The professor, who lives close
to Haifa, launched his legal action after the interior ministry refused
to change his nationality to “Israeli” in 2000. An online petition
declaring “I am an Israeli” has attracted several thousand signatures.
Mr Ornan has been joined in his
action by 20 other public figures, including former government minister
Shulamit Aloni. Several members have been registered with unusual
nationalities such as “Russian”, “Buddhist”, “Georgian” and “Burmese”.
Two Arabs are party to the case,
including Adel Kadaan, who courted controversy in the 1990s by waging a
lengthy legal action to be allowed to live in one of several hundred
communities in Israel open only to Jews.
Uri Avnery, a peace activist and
former member of the parliament, said the current nationality system
gave Jews living abroad a far greater stake in Israel than its 1.3
million Arab citizens.
“The State of Israel cannot
recognise an ‘Israeli’ nation because it is the state of the ‘Jewish’
nation … it belongs to the Jews of Brooklyn, Budapest and Buenos Aires,
even though these consider themselves as belonging to the American,
Hungarian or Argentine nations.”
organisations representing the diaspora, such as the Jewish National
Fund and the Jewish Agency, are given in Israeli law a special,
quasi-governmental role, especially in relation to immigration and
control over large areas of Israeli territory for the settlement of Jews
Mr Ornan said the lack of a
common nationality violated Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which
says the state will “uphold the full social and political equality of
all its citizens, without distinction of religion, race or sex”.
Indications of nationality on ID
cards carried by Israelis made it easy for officials to discriminate
against Arab citizens, he added.
The government has countered
that the nationality section on ID cards was phased out from 2000 --
after the interior ministry, which was run by a religious party at the
time, objected to a court order requiring it to identify non-Orthodox
Jews as “Jewish” on the cards.
However, Mr Ornan said any
official could instantly tell if he was looking at the card of a Jew or
Arab because the date of birth on the IDs of Jews was given according to
the Hebrew calendar. In addition, the ID of an Arab, unlike a Jew,
included the grandfather’s name.
“Flash your ID card and whatever
government clerk is sitting across from you immediately knows which
‘clan’ you belong to, and can refer you to those best suited to ‘handle
your kind’,” Mr Ornan said.
The distinction between Jewish
and Arab nationalities is also shown on interior ministry records used
to make important decisions about personal status issues such as
marriage, divorce and death, which are dealt with on entirely sectarian
Only Israelis from the same
religious group, for example, are allowed to marry inside Israel --
otherwise they are forced to wed abroad – and cemeteries are separated
according to religious belonging.
Some of those who have joined
the campaign complain that it has damaged their business interests. One
Druze member, Carmel Wahaba, said he had lost the chance to establish an
import-export company in France because officials there refused to
accept documents stating his nationality as “Druze” rather than
The group also said it hoped to
expose a verbal sleight of hand that intentionally mistranslates the
Hebrew term “Israeli citizenship” on the country’s passports as “Israeli
nationality” in English to avoid problems with foreign border
B Michael, a commentator for
Yedioth Aharonoth, Israel’s most popular newspaper, has observed: “We
are all Israeli nationals -- but only abroad.”
The campaign, however, is likely
to face an uphill struggle in the courts.
A similar legal suit brought by a
Tel Aviv psychologist, George Tamrin, failed in 1970. Shimon Agranat,
head of the supreme court at the time, ruled: “There is no Israeli
nation separate from the Jewish people. … The Jewish people is composed
not only of those residing in Israel but also of diaspora Jewries.”
That view was echoed by the
district court in 2008 when it heard Mr Ornan’s case.
The judges in the supreme court,
which held the first appeal hearing last month, indicated that they too
were likely to be unsympathetic. Justice Uzi Fogelman said: “The
question is whether or not the court is the right place to solve this
Jonathan Cook is a writer and
journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and
the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle
East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments
in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.