In October 2013, the Supreme Court rejected a petition by a group of Israelis who wanted to force the state to register them as members of the Israeli people, by changing their affiliation as recorded in the Population Registry from “Jewish” to “Israeli.” The reasoning for rejecting the petition was that the existence of “an Israeli people” had not been legally proven, Judge Hanan Melcer noted, and “it is not proper to encourage the creation of ‘slivers’ of new peoples.”
Yesterday, six months after that verdict was issued, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained why he is promoting a new Basic Law: “The Nation State of the Jewish People.”
“Israel’s status as the nation-state of the Jewish people is not given sufficient expression in our Basic Laws, and this is what the proposed Basic Law is meant to do.” Netanyahu subsequently claimed that the Jewish components of the state “are under relentless and increasing attack from abroad, and even at home.”
Both the court ruling and the ceaseless parliamentary efforts to legislate such a law put forth a very narrow portrait of “Israeliness.” For 66 years now Israeliness” has attempted to gain recognition and win independence, and has been rejected repeatedly by the establishment. It has been described as the “slivers of peoplehood” whose existence has not been proven, while at the same time, no one seeks to legislate a law that will define and protect it. Again and again it is forced to bow before its “big sister,” the Jewish state.
But while Netanyahu’s motivation can be explained by his obsessive desire to Judaize Israel and not to allow its minorities to “feel at home,” it is hard not to wonder what exactly the basis was for the court’s determination that there is no such thing as an Israeli nationality [with the Population Registry’s use of the term “nationality” referring not to citizenship but rather to ethnic identity]. Does it not suffice that a group of people lives together for decades in a country called Israel, to call this people “Israeli”? The creation of Israeli literature, Israeli art, Israeli music, Israeli theater, Israeli humor, Israeli politics, Israeli sports, an Israeli accent, Israeli grief – are all of these not enough to speak of an “Israeli people”?
Israeli identity, which is still crystallizing, consists of a whole mosaic of faiths, opinions and tastes; it is not monolithic and homogenous and it is immersed in deeper-than-ever conflict that sometimes seems insoluble. But that is no reason to strike at the very existence of Israeli identity. On the contrary, these are its characteristics and these are precisely the contemporary definitions that sustain it. On the eve of Independence Day 2014, the citizens of Israel can and should be proud of it.
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