Sunday, 28 February 2010

Is Israel actually a nation?

Does an Israeli nation exist? Strange as it sounds, that's the question Israel's supreme court will be answering this Wednesday.

Bernard Avishai explains why on his blog...

Back in 2005, in a piece for Harper's, I called attention to a curious petition, filed the year before with Israel's High Court of Justice. The petitioners were thirty-eight citizens of Israel, most of them Jews but a number of them Arabs: businesspeople, professors, entertainers, writers, jurists; a past minister of education, a past head of the air force. Their petition enjoined the court to order the Ministry of Interior to inscribe them as “Israeli” in the Registry of Population. Given how much else was being contested in the country, one would think a petition to recognize Israelis as “Israeli” was frivolous. It was anything but that.

He later quotes Israeli commentator and left wing activist Uri Avnery:

The Israeli Interior Ministry recognizes 126 nations, but not the Israeli nation. An Israeli citizen can be registered as belonging to the Assyrian, the Tatar or the Circassian nation. But the Israeli nation? Sorry, no such thing.

According to the official doctrine, the State of Israel cannot recognize an "Israeli" nation because it is the state of the "Jewish" nation. In other words, 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. Messy? Indeed.

That 'official doctrine' Avnery talks about was evident some years ago in the judgement of the then head of the Supreme Court of Israel, Shimon Agranat, who explained (in response to a similar petition to recognise an Israeli nationality - see the third paragraph here for more info):

Therefore, if there is in the country today – just 23 years after the establishment of the state – a bunch of people or even more – who ask to separate themselves from the Jewish people and to achieve for themselves the status of a distinct Israeli nation, then such a separatist approach should not be seen as a legitimate approach. It is prohibited to acknowledge this approach, since the principle of the right for national self-determination could not provide any justification for it..

So there you have it: there's no such thing as an Israeli nation - well, at least not officially (though clearly an Israeli nationality exists for and is claimed by most of what we would call Israeli citizens, and that’s enough for me to say it’s real, whatever its legal status). Let's see if this changes on Wednesday...

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