Israeli nationality – there’s no such animal

A lot of religious and nationalist sewage has flowed through the state of Israel’s streams since its establishment…

Salman Masalha ||
Israeli nationality – there’s no such animal

Everyone will no doubt agree that Israel is not a normal country. Perhaps it is also one of the funniest countries in the world. This is because there’s no other country that flees as though the house were on fire from defining its inhabitants as belonging to it in the sense of nationality. Recently the Supreme Court went so far as to emphasize in a ruling that “the existence of an Israeli nationality has not been proven by objective criteria.” Therefore the court rejected the petition by the Ani Yisraeli (I Am an Israeli) non-profit organization to register the Israeli nationality in the Population Registry.

The court based its ruling, inter alia, on the pillars of Zionism: “The perception that Judaism is not only a religious affiliation but also a national affiliation is a foundation stone of Zionism,” in the language of Justice Uzi Vogelman. In this, the justice sharpens the contradiction between Zionist nationalism, which has been around for 100 years, and the Jewish religion, which is thousands of years old. Vogelman also emphasized, rightly, that “an individual cannot belong to two nationalities.” Indeed, a person is born into a certain nationality and he cannot change it whenever he wants to.

Taking this healthy logic one step further leads to a far-reaching conclusion: A person who belongs to the Japanese, Russian or Ethiopian nationality, say, cannot simultaneously belong to another nationality. This also applies if Russians or Ethiopians, say, convert to Judaism. They will continue to belong to their nationality of origin – only with a new religion, recognized by the rabbis and nothing more. Is this not so?

The Supreme Court justices enlisted the Arabic public in order to justify their rejection of the petition: “Rather than including the Arab minority from the perspective of nationality, official or even unofficial adoption of the concept of ‘the Israeli nation’ is liable to exclude it from the perspective of citizenship … In the Arab public many will refrain from, or even explicitly reject defining themselves as Israelis because of the ‘lack of national neutrality’ in this denomination, or simply for political reasons.” The honorable justices did not bother to go to the Arabs and ask them. Instead, they preferred to cite “Arab” names like Yakobson and Rubinstein.

However, this question had already come up in the early days of the state of Israel. Back then there were strictly kosher “pure” and “native” Arabs who spoke explicitly about their belonging to “the Israeli nation.” We are told this by poet Rashid Hussein, a member of Mapam (the United Workers Party, originally Marxist-Zionist in orientation and the precursor of today’s Meretz party).

In an article from the 1950s, he reports on a Jewish-Arab peace conference that took place in Vienna in 1952. There, the Arab writer Emil Habiby stood at the conference podium and declared: “There are not two nationalities in Israel, there is only the Israeli nation … Since the two languages, Hebrew and Arabic, come from a single source, and since the two people, the Arab and the Jewish, come from a single source, and since the Jewish people, that is, the Children of Israel, are the majority, the inhabitants of Israel – Jews and Arabs – should be called by the name: the Israeli nation.”

Opponents to Habiby’s view were Zionists on the one hand and Arabs on the other. “On that day,” continued Hussein in his report, “a well-known Zionist, stood up to refute Habiby’s remarks entirely and declared that in Israel there are two nationalities: Arab and Jewish.” Moreover, Hussein, the man from Mapam, mocked Habibi, the man from Maki (the Communist Party of Israel): “On that day the Arab delegates agreed with the Zionist representative and rejected Habiby’s remarks.”

A lot of religious and nationalist sewage has flowed through the state of Israel’s streams since its establishment. It seems that today there is a wall-to-wall consensus regarding the denial of Israeliness, both among the Jews and among the Arabs. “Israeli” as a nationality exists only in English, in the passport the state issues to its citizens. In Hebrew and in Arabic there is no such animal.
Published: Opinions-Haaretz, October 27, 2013
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