Sunday, October 06, 2013

Is there such a thing as an 'Israeli' people? Supreme Court says no

"Israeli" describes citizenship, not nationality in an ethnic sense, court rules.

Petitioners seek "Israeli" ethnicity to be listed in government registry, but court claims there is insufficient evidence to suggest such a group exists.

Is there such a thing as an Israeli people? Israel's courts don't think so.

Picture above: the Israeli Supreme Court
Photo credit: Dudi Vaaknin
Israeli nationality only refers to one's citizenship, not ethnic identity, the Supreme Court's Civilian Appeals Court ruled on Wednesday.

Professor Uzzi Ornan, a longtime proponent of separation of religion and state, and journalist Uri Avnery, recently spearheaded an appeal seeking to reverse a lower court's ruling that denied their request to be listed as members of the Israeli nation in the government's population registry. The Supreme Court disagreed with the lower court's claim that this matter was not justiciable, but it nevertheless upheld the decision, saying that the plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate the existence of an Israeli nation. It added that this debate should be held and resolved outside the court as part of the country's political discourse.

Ornan is the founder of "I am Israeli," a nonprofit organization created several years ago whose members claim they are part of an Israeli nation. In 2000, Ornan asked the Israeli Interior Ministry to list him as a member of the Israeli nation under the rubric "ethnicity" in government-issued identity cards. Until recently this section denoted the bearers' ethnic group, for example Jewish, Arab, Druze or Circassian, but in light of various legal challenges (the most recent one led by Ornan in 2003), identity cards no longer make explicit reference to ethnicity (that section comprises only asterisks).

The government's population registry still includes that indicator for internal use and in some occasions it may be officially stated, but not on personal documentation.

The Supreme Court justices noted that overhauling the population registry according to the petitioners' request was "tantamount to new legislation" and advised them to resort to other, less drastic, measures that would be sanctioned under existing law.

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