Now Jonathan Cook reports on a group of Jews and Arabs who are petitioning the Israeli Supreme Court to be recognized as “Israelis,” in a case that officials fear may threaten the country’s self-declared status as a Jewish state.
Israel refused to recognize an Israeli nationality at the country’s establishment in 1948, making an unusual distinction between “citizenship” and “nationality.” Although all Israelis qualify as “citizens of Israel,” the state is defined as belonging to the “Jewish nation,” meaning not only the 5.6 million Israeli Jews but also more than seven million Jews in the diaspora.
Critics say the special status of Jewish nationality has been a way to undermine the citizenship rights of non-Jews in Israel, especially the fifth of the population who are Arab. Some 30 laws in Israel specifically privilege Jews, including in the areas of immigration rights, naturalization, access to land and employment.
Arab leaders have also long complained that indications of “Arab” nationality on ID cards make it easy for police and government officials to target Arab citizens for harsher treatment…
The government opposes the case, claiming that the campaign’s real goal is to ‘undermine the state’s infrastructure’. Uri Avnery, a peace activist and former member of the Knesset, understands the purpose of the current nationality system is to give Jews living abroad a far greater stake in Israel than its 1.3 million Arab citizens:
The State of Israel cannot recognize an ‘Israeli’ nation because it is the state of the ‘Jewish’ nation … it belongs to the Jews of Brooklyn, Budapest and Buenos Aires, even though these consider themselves as belonging to the American, Hungarian or Argentine nations.”