Israel’s Supreme Court has rejected an effort by a group of citizens to redefine the very basis of their country’s political identity by having their nationality declared to be Israeli rather than Jewish.
A panel of three judges ruled earlier this week that definition of nationality was not a matter for the court to decide and that it had not been proven that there is in fact an Israeli nationality.
They dismissed the petitioners’ arguments that a new Israeli nationality – of which Arabs and Jews alike are members – had come into being in May 1948 with Israel’s declaration of independence, a document that promises equality irrespective of religion, race or gender. “For purposes of changing the nationality registration, there is no importance to the subjective feelings and views of whoever is requesting the change, but rather to the prescriptions of the law and the accepted categories of nationality,” wrote Justice Hanan Melzer.
The decision is seen as upholding the country’s long-standing ethos of Jewish nationalism that critics say gives salience to the Jewish majority over the Arab minority. The government says there is no contradiction between the state’s Jewish nationalist and democratic components.
The petitioners were led by 90- year-old Uzi Ornan, a veteran of the Irgun underground that fought British rule in the run up to Israel’s independence and a long-standing advocate of separating religion from state. Uri Avnery, an 89-year old veteran left-wing activist who was also one of the petitioners, labelled the judges’ ruling “cowardly”.
Mr Avnery said one of their goals was to overturn the idea that Israel belongs to Jewish people all over the world. “We are trying to make Israel a country like any other country, not the state of the Jewish people all over the world.“
But Noam Arnon, a leader of the ultra-nationalist Jewish settler community, said: “I feel sorry for these people who are trying to run away from their identity, inheritance and roots.”