What Do We Mean By…?
This post comes as the result of reading the Haaretz editorial, “A Jew can’t be identified by an ID card stamp” (accessible at http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/a-jew-can-t-be-identified-by-an-id-card-stamp-1.369188); and as a result of thinking about Katy’s statement in a recent post (http://sophia.smith.edu/blog/jerusalem/2011/06/20/the-ethnocentric-desires-of-the-jewish-people-part-2/) that “I know I will never be truly American because my real alliance lies with being Jewish—THAT is my nationality.”
Katy’s words had been floating through my head on and off for the past few days. Part of me recoils at the idea that being Jewish doesn’t allow for being American– or, rather, what I think Katy was actually trying to express, that being American doesn’t allow for being Jewish. As she pointed out, in certain regions of the United States there are large Jewish communities in which Jews can live with ease; but there are also areas in which Jews or other minorities are subject to some form of social ostracization or victimization. It’s only logical then that, having been subject to such unfortunate experiences herself, Katy might wish to emigrate to Israel, where, presumably, a Jewish person could live in– well, it’s Jerusalem, there’s never “peace” per se, but at least without the kind of social ridicule one would likely face in rural Oklahoma.
Still, I’m left with the question, What exactly does the phrase ”Jewish nationality” mean? In the sense that it seems to emphasize what is “national” about being Jewish, I suppose it leaves room for Jews who don’t practice Orthodox religious Judaism– secularists, Jewish Buddhists, Jewish Christians, etc– to still consider themselves Jewish.
But, on the other hand, what is “the Jewish nation”? Does one mean the collective “nation” of the Jewish people throughout the world? Perhaps. In which case again, it would be shared history and traditional culture, rather than a factor like religious practice or lack thereof, which would define a person as Jewish.
Or is one speaking of “nation” in terms of the modern nation-state? If so, the only Jewish nation-state in existence is Israel. So why not say (citizenship status aside), “I’m Israeli– THAT’s my nationality”? Well, of course, Israel includes Arab citizens, and when one says “Jewish” nationality, it (unlike “Israeli”) naturally excludes Arabs (while keeping in mind Arabic-speaking Jews from countries like Morocco, Yemen, Iraq, etc.).
And here’s where my reading from this morning comes in. In addition to a law from last year requiring citizens, or those who wish to become citizens, to pledge allegiance to the “Jewish state” of Israel (which, to my mind– and I’m not making a value judgment– brings up questions for Arab citizens and especially Arab lawmakers); yesterday’s Haaretz editorial mentions Interior Minister Eli Yishai’s attempt to bring back “Jew” under the category of “nationality” on Israeli id cards.
“In theory, it would be a voluntary act, meant to enable only those interested in doing so – without imposing it on them – to identify themselves as Jewish.” However, people who were not born Jewish, and had Conservative or Reform conversions (i.e., non-Orthodox conversions) would not be eligible. Ironically, this designation was abolished in 2002, when Yishai– Interior Minister then also– refused to follow the Supreme Court’s ruling ”to register as Jews also those who ha[d] undergone Reform or Conservative conversions.”
The editor opines, “Making distinctions among citizens on the basis of faith and belief – all the more so among believers in that religion and faith – completely undermines Israel’s definition not only as a democracy but also as a Jewish state. After all, which Jewish state is the world at large, and specifically the Arab world, to recognize? The state whose own Jewish citizens have difficulty defining their national-religious identity?”
Again, we’re brought back to the question of what Jewish “nationality” means. Not only that, but even whether all those who consider themselves (or are considered by non-Orthodox standards) Jewish, are entitled to membership within said nationality.
And what’s the point of this designation, anyway? It “would allow those wishing to do so to transform their blue identity cards from identification documents used for administrative purposes – like, for example, a driver’s license, a student card or a senior citizen card – into documents that not only prove national identity but also eligibility for benefits that come with such privileged standing.”
I was struck by the words “privileged standing.” Naturally, being a member of any group has its advantages (or, sadly, disadvantages). I would argue that being a Jewish national has more advantages within Israel than being a non-Jew, even if both are citizens. This is a reversal of Katy’s experience growing up, and no more fair.
Obviously it happens on all sides. Many of us have remarked on the level of segregation (or, to use a less loaded term, separation)– by both choice and force– we’ve seen in Jerusalem. Israelis, Palestinians, Jews, non-Jews, often have completely misguided notions about each other, which sometimes, if not often, lead to the kind of prejudice and bigotry we’ve discussed in America.
But it is a sad thought that there is nowhere one can go where, even if it’s no longer happening to you, discrimination and unfairness aren’t happening to someone else.
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