Supreme Court rules against ‘Israeli’ ethnicity on ID

Three-judge panel rejects appeal to force the state to register individuals as ‘Israeli’ instead of ‘Jewish’

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Former Supreme Court president Asher Grunis (Alex Kolomoisky/Flash90)
Former Supreme Court president Asher Grunis (Alex Kolomoisky/Flash90)

There is no such thing as Israeli ethnicity, the Supreme Court ruled as it rejected an appeal by a number of people requesting that their state-issued ID cards register their ethnicity as “Israeli” rather then “Jewish.”

Headed by Supreme Court President Asher Grunis, the three-judge panel said Wednesday it was not the court’s mandate to determine new categories of le’om, a Hebrew word translated as ethnicity or nationhood, the judges said in their ruling.

The appeal came after the group’s initial petition was rejected in 2007 by judge Noam Sohlberg, then a district magistrate in the Jerusalem District Court.

The petition was led by Professor Uzzi Ornan, a Jerusalem-born 90-year-old linguist and social activist. When the state was formed in 1948 he refused to be registered as Jewish, claiming he had no religion and was of “Hebrew” ethnicity. The request was accepted.

In 2000 Ornan decided to change his ethnicity to “Israeli,” but the Interior Ministry refused the request, causing the professor to go to court. In 2007 former minister Shulamit Aloni and other prominent activists joined Ornan in an appeal to the Jerusalem District Court.

Judge Uzi Fogelman wrote that rejecting the appeal did not “take away from the principal struggle of the appellants, from their personal views or from the discourse which will continue [to take place] in the public sphere.”

“The natural place for these discussions isn’t in the courtroom, but rather in other arenas of public debate and academic writing,” Fogelman wrote.

The third judge, Hanan Melcer, said that in the current situation “citizenship was separate and ethnicity was separate.” He wrote there was no place to unite the different ethnicities living in Israel under a new and inclusive ethnicity. Such a move, he stated, “was against both the Jewish nature and the democratic nature of the State.”

In one key question Grunis voiced a minority opinion. Melcer and Fogelman both thought the theoretical question of forcing the state to provide new ethnicity options (as demanded by the public) on the ID card was one which could be debated in court, while the president said it was not a legal issue.

“In its ruling the court, in effect, agrees to totally ignore the obligations included in the Declaration of Independence, which promises full equality among all the state’s citizens, regardless of religion, race or gender,” Haaretz quoted Ornan as saying following the ruling.

“The government consensus that has developed ignores the existence of an Israeli people that was created with the Declaration of Independence,” Ornan continued. “This consensus enables the Jewish majority to have full control over the country and to operate not for the benefit of Israeli citizens but for the benefit of the current political majority among the Jews.”

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