A single, equal nationality for all citizens, whatever their religion or lack thereof, as required by the Declaration of Independence and the laws of the state.
The Jewish year 5772 began with grand tidings: The Tel Aviv District Court recognized author Yoram Kaniuk’s right to be registered in the state population rolls as “without religion” rather than “Jewish.” In his appeal petition, Kaniuk explained that he would prefer to have his nationality status registered as “Israeli,” but that this is not yet possible since he cannot produce a certificate of conversion to another religion.
Is something wrong with this picture? This confounds the most basic logic: If someone declares himself as being without religion, how can he be asked to prove his conversion to a different religion? Kaniuk, author of “1948,” concluded that this important ruling means that he has no religion but is Jewish by nationality.
Is this indeed the case? How and where is there a Jewish nation that is separate and distinguished from the Jewish religion? Israeli law defines a person as “Jewish” who has a Jewish mother and has no other religion. The condition – being born to a Jewish mother – is a condition set by Jewish law. In other words, the condition is religious in nature. The conclusion that the separation of religion and state has been achieved because an Israeli citizen whose mother was Jewish has been allowed to be classified as having no religion remains a fervent wish only.
The enormous significance of Judge Gideon Ginat’s decision, however, lies not in what it does not say, but rather in what it does say, and in its implications. Kaniuk declared that the court “granted legitimacy” to every person to live in accordance with their conscience. To be more precise, this right – not legitimacy – is the right of every person in Israel, by the force of the Declaration of Independence and the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom, as the court made abundantly clear.
That same Basic Law, however, has been brutally and consistently violated by the state since its establishment; all efforts to require the judicial system to enforce their compliance on state institutions (as in the issue of recognition of the Jewish nationality ) have failed, and they are passed from one court to another: from the Supreme Court to the District Court, from the District Court to the Supreme Court and back again.
The Jerusalem District Court has ruled that the issue of recognizing “Israeli” as a nationality was nonjusticiable; the appeal of this ruling is still pending in the Supreme Court.
Consequently, Ginat’s ruling does not establish the existence of a Jewish nationality as distinct from the Jewish religion. Neither the law, nor simple logic, admits to any such separate existence. The implication of the recent ruling in Kaniuk’s case is that any Israeli born to a Jewish mother who declares themselves to be religion-less is also classified as nationality-less.
Is this outcome intolerable? Absolutely, unless and until the court orders the state’s executive branch to recognize the existence of an Israeli nationality: a single, equal nationality for all citizens, whatever their religion or lack thereof, as required by the Declaration of Independence and the laws of the state.
It should be noted that the state itself recognizes the Israeli nationality in a single document only: The Israeli passport. As the saying goes, be a man outside and a Jew at home. The enlightened view of Judaism does not distinguish between being a Jewish person and being a person.
This article was first published in Ha’aretz. The writer, Yoella Har-Shefi, is an attorney and mediator.