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The Only Democracy? » Discrimination » No Such Thing As Israeli Nationality

No Such Thing As Israeli Nationality

There are currently over 130 different nationalities that have been recognized by the State of Israel for use in registering for an ID card.  “Arab” and “Unknown” are, uniquely in the world, recognized as a form of nationality — but “Israeli” is not. On the other hand,  if you are Jewish it matters not what nationality you are –Israel recognizes you as belonging to ”the Jewish nation”. 

Now  Jonathan Cook reports on a group of Jews and Arabs who are petitioning the Israeli Supreme Court to be recognized as “Israelis,”  in a case that officials fear may threaten the country’s self-declared status as a Jewish state. 

Israel refused to recognize 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, naturalization, access to land and employment.

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 harsher treatment…

The government opposes the case, claiming that the campaign’s real goal is to ‘undermine the state’s infrastructure’.  Uri Avnery, a peace activist and former member of the Knesset,  understands the purpose of the current nationality system is to give Jews living abroad a far greater stake in Israel than its 1.3 million Arab citizens:

The State of Israel cannot recognize 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.”

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Written by

Carol Sanders was born and raised in the Bronx, New York. She is a retired legal services attorney and author of legal texts. She lived in Israel from 1963 to 1966, where she worked on a kibbutz, did graduate studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and served as an assistant to the then-mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek. Carol is a long-time activist with Jewish Voice for Peace, and is the JVP representative to the Middle East Advisory Committee and a member of Bay Area Women in Black.

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