Petition: Add 'Israeli' category to IDs

There are 132 categories of classification; 'Israeli' is not one of them.

By DAN IZENBERG
February 22, 2007 00:43
Petition: Add 'Israeli' category to IDs

israeli ID 298.88. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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First question (easy): What do the following people have in common? Architect and city planner Hubert Lew-Yon was born in Burma and has no religion. Musician Alon Olarchuk was born in Poland to a non-Jewish mother and is therefore not Jewish. Writer and political activist Uri Avneri was born in Germany and is Jewish. Male nurse Adel Ka'adan was born in Israel and is an Arab. Playwright Yehoshua Sobol was born in Israel and is Jewish. Answer: They are all Israeli citizens. Second question (harder): What else do these people have in common? Answer: They all want the state to recognize their nationality as "Israeli" and to record it as such on their identity cards and in the Population Registry. If they and the 12 other petitioners succeed in persuading the Jerusalem District Court to make the state do so, they will be the first Israeli citizens to be defined as Israelis by nationality in the country's 58-year history. Although the government records the nationality of Israeli citizens as "Israeli" on their passports, it has consistently refused to do so for internal state purposes. Earlier this week, Jerusalem District Court Judge Noam Solberg rejected the state's position that the issue raised by the petitioners was not a matter for a court to decide on. Now, the only preliminary question left to determine is which court will hear the case. Depending on where he originally came from, an Israeli citizen can declare his nationality to be Jewish, Hebrew, Arab, Druse, Samaritan, Tatar, Slav, or more than 100 of the recognized states of the world. Probably not of their own choice, the nationality of some Israelis may also be registered as "under investigation," "no nationality," "unknown" or "undetermined." There are 132 possible nationality classifications. "Israeli" is not among them. In the good/bad (take your pick) old days, the Interior Ministry registered the nationality of an Israeli citizen or resident who was of the Jewish faith as "Jewish" in the Population Registry and on the individual's identity card. This practice changed a few years ago, after the High Court of Justice ordered the ministry to record the nationality of Israeli citizens and residents who had been converted to Judaism by non-Orthodox rabbis as "Jewish." To avoid a measure regarded by the religious parties as a desecration, the ministry stopped filling out the nationality entry on identify cards, although it continued to do so in the Population Registry. Today, according to Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad, even if a citizen asks to have one of the 132 possible nationality classifications listed on his identity card, the ministry will not do so. The petitioners are not satisfied with this situation. They want the state to positively recognize "Israeli" as a nationality and to register any Israeli citizen or resident who wishes, as such. The petition was originally filed in June by attorney Yoella Har-Shefi on behalf of 83-year-old retired linguistics professor Uzi Ornan, head of the nonprofit organization Ani Yisraeli (I am Israeli.) "Israel does recognize Israeli nationality, but only with regard to the outside world," Ornan told The Jerusalem Post. "For the past 15 years, the Interior Ministry has been recording the nationality of Israeli passport-holders as 'Israeli.' After all, you wouldn't want to write 'Jew' on a passport to be shown abroad. If Israel recognizes Israeli nationality abroad, there is no reason why it should not do so at home. The government only distinguishes among different types of Israelis to deny rights to some of them." In insisting that his nationality be recorded as Israeli, Ornan said, he was not denying his Jewish identity. "Each person has many identifies, including an ethnic identity," he said. "But to insist that one's ethnic identity is the primary one is not right. In the modern world, you cannot say that the homeland of your grandfather is more of an identifying feature than where you make your own home. All modern states determine nationality on the basis of citizenship." Hubert Lew-Yon, 67, was born in Burma but has lived for the past 46 years in Israel, where he married and raised a family. He taught at the Technion's Faculty of Architecture for 40 years until his retirement two years ago. Lew-Yon told the Post he applied for Israeli citizenship in 1969 after deciding of his own free will that this is where he wanted to make his life. Since being granted citizenship, his nationality has been classified as "Burmeni," an Interior Ministry fracture of the word, "Burmese." Lew-Yon hopes the petition will enable him to formally change his nationality to Israeli. "I just figured it was a statement of fact," he said. "I'm here, I've tied most of my life and my future to this country out of choice, and I am a citizen whether the state likes it or not. I'm not a Burmese, whatever that is. I never was. I have only one grandmother who is Burmese. My other grandparents were English, Chinese, and a member of one of the Burmese ethnic tribes, so why should I be considered Burmese more than Israeli. It's ridiculous. "Nobody asked me what I am. Otherwise, I would have told them. But they decided that if you come from Burma, you are Burmeni." Lew-Yon said he wanted to be belong to a group, and the most natural group were the members of the nation among whom he lived, in other words, the state. "In a normal country, nationality is a function of the state of which you are a citizen. I am a citizen of this country by choice. It is only because of problems of the Jewish religion that the state does not want to be normal and give this to me. When I go abroad and people ask me what I am, I say I'm Israeli. "As simple as that - no ifs, ands or buts - whether the state recognizes it or not. I think it's just proper that it should be written down that way," Lew-Yon said. In 1972, the High Court rejected a similar request by a Yugoslavian-Jewish oleh. But times have changed, according to the petitioners. "The matter must be considered anew, according to today's realities," wrote Har-Shefi. "It is no longer possible to doubt the existence of a vital and developing Israeli identity."

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