4

Israel has its constitution set out in its "Basic Laws". It would seem to me that Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People which states, "Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People" must exclude some people (presumably from obtaining a majority stake in the power structure). Something isn't for (or of) a specific people, unless it excludes others. Does the term "of the Jewish People" given the context of the law exclude others on the basis on religion, or race and ethnicity?

Under what circumstance could the State of Israel operate such that the law would fall into conflict with the practices of government and people could conclude that Israel was no longer "of the Jewish people"? Does this law exclude the possibility of a single-state solution where all Palestinians are given universal suffrage and equal rights, including the right of return, in the government? And if that's allowed: then I'm confused what meaning this phrase (often repeated) has, if any?

3
  • 5
    I'll point out that 'Jewishness' is ambiguous: it implies both ethnic and religious aspects, and in many ways Jews treat ethnicity as primary and religion as secondary (e.g., ethnic Jews are considered Jews whether or not they practice the religion, but converts to the religion are often treated as outsiders). Jun 4, 2021 at 5:41
  • 1
    @TedWrigley some previous rulings of the Israel version of a Supreme Court could make a good answer though, as could other precedents and stuff like that. So it’s not really a subjective question. Jun 4, 2021 at 11:19
  • This post includes multiple different questions in one, can you please split it up into multiple posts? Jun 4, 2021 at 13:18

1 Answer 1

5

All states are exclusionary. They all divide people into two groups; nationals and aliens (foreigners). The former group is included and the latter excluded. States treat people in these groups differently. For example, in the US, illegal immigrants are sometimes deported, they can't vote, and they don't enjoy the same protections the state extends to nationals. This is a form of discrimination based on nationality. We tolerate it because the current world order -- the world divided into states -- couldn't possibly work otherwise (and perhaps also because the system greatly benefits people in the industrialized world at the expense of people in the third world).

Israel defines all Jews as its nationals. From the Nation-State law:

A. The land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people, in which the State of Israel was established.

B. The State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, in which it fulfills its natural, cultural, religious, and historical right to self-determination.

C. The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.

It follows that all non-Jews are its aliens.

What makes Israel unique is the separation of nationality from citizenship.1 Israel has an older law from 1953 called, confusingly, the "Nationality Law" that defines its citizens:

2. Nationality by return (a)Every "oleh" [a Jew wishing to "return"] under the Law of Return, 5710-1950, shall become an Israel national by return unless Israel nationality has been conferred on him by birth under section 4. ...

3. Nationality by residence in Israel (a)A person who, immediately before the establishment of the State, was a Palestinian citizen and who does not become an Israel national under section 2, shall become an Israel national with effect from the day of the establishment of the State if:

(1) he was registered on the 4th Adar, 5712 (1st March 1952) as an inhabitant under the Registration of Inhabitants Ordinance, 5709-1949; and

(2) he is an inhabitant of Israel on the day of the coming into force of this Law; and ...

4. Nationality by birth (a)The following shall, from the date of their birth, be Israel nationals by birth: ...

Israel: Nationality Law

and so forth.

This distinction does not exist in most other states' laws. An American citizen is an American national and a member of the American people. Indeed, the definition of "being American" is having an American citizenship. Israel's distinction between nationals and citizens in this way leads to some very interesting consequences.

Naturalization is a process under which an alien can become a national of a state he or she previously weren't a national of. Becoming an Israeli national is to become Jewish, that is, to undergo a religious conversion overseen by an authoritative religious body. Denaturalization is the opposite. Whether a Jew can cease being Jewish is a controversial topic. In the eyes of the Israeli state it is possible, but probably requires a religious conversion. This was elaborated on in 1962 when the Polish Jew Oswald Rufeisen, who had converted to Catholicism, sought to immigrate to Israel. The Israeli Supreme Court denied his application, arguing that "no one can regard an apostate as belonging to the Jewish people".2 Refeisen himself insisted on that he was still a Jew.3

Another consequence of the Israeli view on nationality is, paradoxically, the denial of the existence of an Israeli nationality. Israeli identity cards used to carry a person's "nationality" or "ethnic affiliation" and the choices for this field included Jewish, Arab, Druze, Circassian, Russian, Egyptian, etc, but, conspicuously, Israeli, was absent. Human rights activists petitioned the courts to have themselves registered as Israeli. Their goal was to build or demonstrate an Israeli nationality that would encompass everyone living in Israel - Jews and Arabs alike. One such petition in 1971 was denied with the Court asserting that "there is no Israeli nation separate from the Jewish people."4 A similar petition was brought forward in 2007 and also denied. The Supreme Court decided that "[t]he existence of an Israeli ethnic nationality has not been proven" and warned that such a nationality would jeopardize "the Jewish and the democratic nature of the state".5

Now to your questions:

Something isn't for (or of) a specific people, unless it excludes others. Does the term "of the Jewish People" given the context of the law exclude others on the basis on religion, or race and ethnicity?

It excludes on both race and religion, with religion taking precedence. Otherwise Rufeisen's immigration application wouldn't have been denied because his conversion to Christianity changed his religion but not his race/ethnicity. Interestingly, Jews who support the BDS movement may be barred from entering Israel, but would likely not be prevented from immigrating to Israel.6 Which might seem odd given that the Israeli government has declared the BDS movement its number one enemy. It would seem that religious apostasy (Catholicism) is worse than "political apostasy" (anti-Zionism).

Under what circumstance could the State of Israel operate such that the law would fall into conflict with the practices of government and people could conclude that Israel was no longer "of the Jewish people"?

Laws define how state operate and states cannot act in defiance of their own laws. I think people would conclude that Israel was no longer "of the Jewish people" if the numerous Israeli laws defining the state as of and for the Jewish people were rescinded or amended. But it's unlikely to happen in the near future, since many such legislative initiatives have been shut down in the past.7

Does this law exclude the possibility of a single-state solution where all Palestinians are given universal suffrage and equal rights, including the right of return, in the government?

It would seem so. As stated, states are free to discriminate (within bounds set by international law) against aliens and give preferential treatment to nationals. Since the law declares that non-Jews are aliens, why should they be given equal rights? Israel is not unique in not affording the same rights to aliens as to nationals. What is unique about Israel is how it defines its nationals.

  1. I hope this does not get too confusing. In international law nationality is often used as a synonym for citizenship. Here I'm trying to explain why they are different concepts in Israeli law.
  2. The Definition of a Jew under Israel's Law of Return
  3. Religion: Definition of a Jew
  4. Race and the Issue of National Indentity in Israel
  5. Court nixes push for ‘Israeli nationality’
  6. Despite BDS Blacklist, Jewish Agency Won't Block Boycott Supporters From Immigrating to Israel
  7. Knesset rejects bill to ensure full equality between all Israeli citizens
4
  • It is awkward at the least to say "they all divide people into two groups; nationals and aliens" and then to go on and invent a totally different definition of "national" and "alien" which is prejudiced on race and ethnicity. You're not wrong, I just don't accept those definitions. In the same sense that I would not accept inclusion of Apartheid South Africa, or Nazi Germany into a category of states that divides between nationals and aliens. Jun 4, 2021 at 16:44
  • There just has to be a certain point where this argument is not defensible under "immigration and citizenship policy" but it is hard to pin down that point. Jun 4, 2021 at 16:44
  • @user157251 "I would not accept inclusion of Apartheid South Africa, or Nazi Germany into a category of states that divides between nationals and aliens." There is a term for states like that: ethno-state. Israel's one of them, ironically enough given their origins as a result of Nazi oppression.
    – nick012000
    Jun 4, 2021 at 16:54
  • politics.stackexchange.com/q/65511/1659 (follow up question about Atheist Jews) Jun 4, 2021 at 22:22

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .