It is hard not to be impressed by Interior Minister Eli Yishai's determination to compete with his colleague, Avigdor Lieberman, over the privilege to carve the "correct" national identity for Israeli citizens. Yishai has just pulled out of the storeroom of national symbols the term "Jew" and is trying to stick it back into Israeli identity cards under the "nationality" clause that was eradicated in 2002.
In theory, it would be a voluntary act, meant to enable only those interested in doing so - without imposing it on them - to identify themselves as Jewish. This would allow those wishing to do so to transform their blue identity cards from identification documents used for administrative purposes - like, for example, a driver's license, a student card or a senior citizen card - into documents that not only prove national identity but also eligibility for benefits that come with such privileged standing.
But this standing only applies to those who were born Jewish or who underwent Orthodox conversions. Those who have undergone Reform or Conservative conversions, regardless of their contribution to the state, will not be identified as Jewish.
This is a slippery and dangerous slope, and the Supreme Court was already there in 2002 when it ordered the interior minister, who then also happened to be Yishai, to register as Jews also those who have undergone Reform or Conservative conversions.
Making distinctions among citizens on the basis of faith and belief - all the more so among believers in that religion and faith - completely undermines Israel's definition not only as a democracy but also as a Jewish state. After all, which Jewish state is the world at large, and specifically the Arab world, to recognize? The state whose own Jewish citizens have difficulty defining their national-religious identity?
Yishai himself is apparently comfortable with the phrase "Jewish nationality." After all, he once agreed to cancel the nationality clause on Israeli identity cards, just so he would not have to acknowledge as Jews those who have undergone Reform and Conservative conversions. It would be best, then, if he immediately returned the issue back to the shelf from which it was pulled. An individual's identity does not require political approval. His beliefs are his own private business, and his sense of national belonging is determined by his own identification, not by the order of the interior minister.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now