Reality Check: If Israel had a citizenship test?

What constitutes basic knowledge about a country that one would expect its citizens to possess?

January 4, 2015 20:59
3 minute read.
Israel from space 4

Israel from space 4. (photo credit: NASA/BARRY WILMORE)

A small news item caught my attention last week: a Moroccan man’s request for Spanish citizenship was initially turned down when he was unable to name the Nou Camp as the home of the famed Barcelona football club.

The Spanish Justice Ministry decided that that the man had failed to properly adapt to life in Spain after he failed to answer 17 questions out of 31 in a test. According to the report, another of the questions the man was unable to answer concerned the identity of a television celebrity who had an affair with a bullfighter. A judge ruled that this showed the man had “failed really basic questions on the country whose nationality he means to acquire.”

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On appeal to Spain’s High Court, this decision was overturned, with the court stating that failing to answer such questions as the above did not show a “lack of integration” and that the wouldbe Spanish citizen had shown he was familiar with Spanish newspapers, geography and cuisine, as well as Goya and General Franco. The court also noted that the man spoke good Spanish.

But the case does raise an interesting question: what constitutes basic knowledge about a country that one would expect its citizens to possess? The United States also has a citizenship test for people seeking naturalization, and here the questions vary from basic geography - “what ocean is on the East Coast of the United States?” - to the US political system - “why do some states have more Representatives than other states?” - to American history - “there were 13 original states. Name three.”

TO PASS the test, applicants need to study some 100 questions covering the above topics, and answer at least six out of 10 correctly on the day, and there are no questions about celebrity gossip or sporting trivia to derail the more high-minded future American citizen. Applicants also have to pass a language test in which they “must demonstrate an ability to read, write, and speak words in ordinary usage in the English language.”

Here in Israel, an applicant receives citizenship the minute they can prove at least one of their grandparents was a Jew, without any formal process of integration into Israeli society. In many ways this is a pity, as it deprives new immigrants of the need to learn more about the country in which they live.

Of course for some it might also be a blessing.

For example, how many Jerusalem Post readers living in the country would pass a citizenship test if they had to prove an ability “to read, write, and speak words in ordinary usage” in the Hebrew language? But nevertheless, I thought it would be fun to come up with my 10 questions that I believe any person wishing to become an Israeli citizen should be able to answer.

• 1) Who was Israel’s first prime minister? a) Theodor Herzl b) David Ben-Gurion c) Golda Meir
• 2) Felafel is made from a) chickpeas b) tehina c) eggplant
• 3) Id el-Fitr is a festival marking a) Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael to God b) the beginning of Ramadan c) the end of Ramadan
• 4) Chaim Nahman Bialik wrote a) In the City of Slaughter b) Only Yesterday c) The Hill of Evil Counsel
• 5) Under Israel’s electoral system, to cross the electoral threshold a party has to gain what percentage of the vote a) 2% b)2.5% c) 3.25%
• 6) Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital since a) 1948 b) 1949 c) 1967
• 7) Arik Einstein was a) a scientist b) a general c) a singer
• 8) What percent of Israel’s population are Arab? a) 20.7 b) 15.6 c) 10.3
• 9) It is illegal on Yom Kippur to a) eat b) drive a car c) none of these
•10) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s favorite ice cream is a) vanilla b) pistachio c) chocolate

How did you do? The answers are below. And which questions do you think any Israeli citizen should be able to answer?

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

Answers: 1 (b), 2 (a), 3 (c), 4 (a), 5 (c), 6 (b), 7 (c), 8 (a), 9 (c), 10 (b)

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