TEL AVIV: The government of Israel, with all due respect, does not represent the Jewish people but rather the citizens of the State of Israel who elected it. Israel is a sovereign state, which is still considered to be a democracy. In other words, it is a state for all of its citizens. Therefore it must not demand of the Palestinians to recognize it as a Jewish state, because in that way it would be declaring that any citizen whose mother is not Jewish or who did not convert with our strict Orthodox rabbis is a second-rate citizen, and his rights as a human being and a citizen are not ensured.
The Jews are a people but not a nation; they are a religious ethnic group or as respected a tribe may be. The Jewish citizens of Britain, including the Orthodoxy, are British, and that is what is written in their passports and in the British population registry.
The same is true of France: the Jews there are French. In Canada, they are Canadians, and in Holland they are Dutch. They uphold their Jewish lives in their communities, since in democratic nations there is freedom of religion and freedom from religion. If they were to register the Jewish citizens in these countries as Jewish in the nationality category, we would accuse them of being anti-Semitic.
There is a difference between a people, a religion, and a nationality, since nationality is decided by citizenship – a people as opposed to a nation – and therefore citizenship is nationality. The affinity of a citizen to the state is based on citizenship and not on religion; it is based neither on the tribe nor maternal genes.
If among the cabinet ministers there are those who feel that they are more Jewish than Israeli, that is their right, and they can uphold all the religious precepts and pray all the prayers. But that is not relevant to the ties between the State of Israel and its neighbors.
There are people among us who like to repeat that this is a Jewish state and not a state of all its citizens. It is strange that the demand has been raised of the Palestinians, as a condition for ending the occupation, to recognize a state where some 20 percent of its citizens have inferior status.
In the past, it was a great joy to be an Israeli. Israel was father to the nations. The word Jewish does not exist in any of the prayers. There is: And I will restore the captivity of my people Israel. And there is the people of Israel, the land of Israel, the Torah of Israel, the God of Israel and the daughter of Israel, who with the Jews is also a second-rate person.
The state of Israel was established as a civilian state, as a state of law, and not as a state of Halakha (Jewish religious law), by the representatives of the Jewish yishuv and the Zionist movement. Not by the ultra-Orthodox to whom the cabinet ministers enslave themselves, and whose masses they release from military service, from working, and from tuition fees, and even pay them a monthly wage.
In the document establishing the state, it was promised that there would be complete equality of rights for all its citizens regardless of origin, race or gender. And another reminder: On the Day of Independence, we light 12 beacons, the number of the tribes of Israel.
Let the cabinet ministers feel at home as Jews as much as they want, let them raise their voices in prayer and let them lay tefillin (phylacteries) – but they must remember that they serve the government of Israel, which still represents itself as being democratic. In other words, they are the representatives of all its citizens and are responsible for them.
Therefore it would be better to demand of the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a sovereign state, and not to coerce them with what the citizens coerce us – religion and its rabbis.
The existing arrangement was suitable for the Catholic Spain of Isabella and Ferdinand at the end of the 15th century. That is when the expulsion from Spain took place, since Spanish nationality was granted only to the Catholics or to those who converted to Catholicism.
If it is more important to be a Jew than it is to be an Israeli, why do we demand of the Jews of the world to come here at a time when they are having it good in the democratic countries in which they live as Jews?
Shulamit Aloni is the former Education Minister of Israel. She has been awarded both the Israel Prize and the Emil Grunzweig Human Rights Award by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org. Source: Haaretz, www.haaretz.com.