A court decision this month that rejected Israelis’ right to a shared nationality. Since Israel’s founding in 1948, authorities have refused to recognise such a nationality, instead classifying Israelis according to the ethnic group to which each belongs. The overwhelming majority are registered as either “Jewish” or “Arab” nationals, though there are more than 130 such categories in total. The “I am an Israeli” movement objects to Israel’s system of laws that separate citizenship from nationality. While Israelis enjoy a common citizenship, they have separate nationalities based on their ethnic identity. Only the Jewish majority has been awarded national rights, meaning that Palestinian citizens face institutionalised discrimination, said Uzi Ornan, a retired linguist from northern Israel. Others view the ruling more positively. Anita Shapira, a professor emeritus of Jewish history at Tel Aviv University, said creating a new category of “Israeli national” would undermine the Jewish essence of the state and alienate Jews from other countries who felt a connection to Israel through a shared religion.
Hassan Jabareen, the director of Adalah – a legal rights group for the Arab minority in Israel – said the state’s refusal to recognise a shared nationality stripped Palestinians inside Israel of equality in most areas of their lives, including access to land, housing, education and employment. “It is also disturbing that Israeli law treats Israel as the Jewish homeland for Jews everywhere, even those who are not citizens of Israel,” he said.
Jabareen said this was achieved through the 1950 Law of Return, which allows Jews anywhere in the world to come to Israel and gain automatic citizenship. Israel used another law – the Citizenship Law of 1952 – to belatedly confer citizenship on the Palestinians who remained on their land following the 1948 war that established Israel. Under the terms of the Citizenship Law, only a few dozen non-Jews – those who marry an Israeli citizen – qualify for naturalisation every year. Israel passed another law in 2003 that bars most Palestinians from the occupied territories and Arabs from neighbouring states from being eligible to naturalise, even if they marry an Israeli.
Adalah has established an online database showing that Israel has more than 55 laws that explicitly discriminate between Jewish and Palestinian citizens. This number has grown rapidly in recent years, said Jabareen, as the Israeli right-wing has been forced to legislate many established but uncodified discriminatory practices that were under threat of being ruled unconstitutional by the courts.
In recent years, the Israeli right-wing has grown increasingly concerned about challenges to the state’s Jewishness. The Yisrael Beiteinu party – led by Avigdor Lieberman, a former foreign affairs minister and a political ally of Netanyahu – has lobbied for loyalty laws to restrict the Palestinian minority’s political activities. In the past two general elections, Lieberman has campaigned under the slogan, “No citizenship without loyalty”.
Over the summer it was announced that members of Netanyahu’s coalition government were drafting a basic law that would formally define Israel as the “nation-state of the Jewish people”. According to reports in the Israeli media, the bill would allow only Jews the right to national self-determination, Hebrew would be the only recognised language, and Jewish religious law would be used as guidance in Israeli courts. Haaretz has argued that the bill would institute “apartheid” in Israel and turn the state into what it called a “Jewish and racist state”.