Shulamit Aloni
The Daily Star (Opinion)
December 3, 2007 - 4:21pm

Jews are a people but not a nation; they are a religious ethnic group or as respected a tribe as may be. The Jewish citizens of Britain, including the orthodox, 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 these states were to register their Jewish citizens 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 on maternal genes.

If among Israeli 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 Israel and its neighbors. There are people among us who like to repeat that Israel is a Jewish state and not a state for all its citizens. It is strange that this notion was to be imposed on the Palestinians in the document prepared for the Annapolis conference as a condition for ending the occupation. Palestinians are asked to recognize an Israel where some 20 percent of its citizens, the Arabs, 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 are the people of Israel, the land of Israel, the Torah of Israel, the God of Israel and the daughter of Israel.

The state of Israel was established as a civilian state, as a state of law, and not as a state of Halakha, or Jewish religious law. It was not established by ultra-orthodox Jews to whom the Cabinet ministers enslave themselves, and whose supporters they release from military service, from other work, and from tuition fees, and to whom they even pay a monthly wage.

In the document establishing the Israeli 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 Israel's Independence Day, citizens light 12 beacons, the number of the tribes of Israel.

Let the Cabinet ministers feel at home as Jews as much as they want to; let them raise their voices in prayer, 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 in the same way as the citizens coerce us, through the imposition of religion and the word of rabbis.

The existing arrangement in Israel was suitable for the Catholic Spain of Isabella and Ferdinand at the end of the 15th century. That is when the expulsion of Jews from Spain took place, since only Catholics, or those who converted to Catholicismm could be Spanish. If it is more important to be a Jew than it is to be an Israeli, then why do we demand of the Jews of the world to come here at a time when they have it so good in the democratic countries in which they live as Jews?

Shulamit Aloni is a former Israeli education minister. She has been awarded both the Israel Prize and the Emil Grunzweig Human Rights Award by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with the Common Ground News Service.


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