Cabinet Declines to Rule on ‘nationality’ Issue, Leaves It to Supreme Court

The Cabinet decided after a brief discussion yesterday not to act on a suggestion by Israel’s Supreme Court that it sponsor legislation to delete references to “nationality” from the national population registry and personal identification papers. The apparent consensus was that because of other pressing problems the time was not ripe to become involved in an issue as basic and as controversial as the definition of who is a Jew. Religious Orthodoxy in Israel claims that Jewish nationality and religion are inseparable. Israeli law complies with that view by permitting registration of one’s nationality as Jewish although the registrant may be an Israeli citizen. Before the Cabinet met Minister of Social Welfare, Joseph Burg, who belongs to the Orthodox National Religious Party, said it should walk out of the coalition Government if the Cabinet went along with the Supreme Court’s proposal. Two Cabinet members, Moshe Kol of the Independent Liberal Party who is Minister of Tourism and Development and Minister of Housing Mordecai Bentov of Mapam, abstained from voting.

As a result of the Cabinet’s withdrawal from the issue, the court will have to rule in the case of Lt. Commander Benjamin Shalit of the Israel Navy who is suing to have his Israel-born children registered as Jewish by nationality. The Ministry of Interior, headed by Moshe Shapiro of the National Religious Party, refused to take such action on grounds that their mother is not Jewish even though she professes no other religion. The court has sought to avoid the necessity of ruling in the controversial case. Justice Shimon Agranat, Supreme Court president, proposed legislation deleting “nationality” from the national registry, said that it would bring Israel in line with most Western nations where nationality and citizenship are equated. Israel’s practice is similar to that of Soviet Russia and other Eastern European countries which base nationality on ethnic origin regardless of citizenship.

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