Secularists force Tel Aviv to change ‘Jewish’ classification

By MAAYAN LUBELL | REUTERS ARABNEWS

JERUSALEM: In its troubled peace talks with the Palestinians, Israel has demanded that it should be recognized as a Jewish state, but there is deep domestic division on what that means.

Yoram Kaniuk, a rambunctious 81-year-old author, was hailed by Israeli secularists this week for winning a court victory that compelled the state to stop listing Judaism as his “religion” while keeping “Jewish” as his “ethnicity.” He is the first Israeli Jew to have done so.

Israel defines itself as a “Jewish and democratic” state. Kaniuk’s legal triumph comes at a time when society is increasingly polarized between those who say the state’s Jewish character must be strengthened and opponents who say this comes at the expense of civil rights and liberties.

“I feel great relief,” said Kaniuk, one of Israel’s best-known writers.

“I was sick and tired of an extremist right-wing religious establishment taking over our lives. We are a secular majority and we just give in to it. I hope (my) court ruling will change this,” he told Reuters.

Kaniuk’s wife is Christian, and because Orthodox rabbinical law identifies only those born to a Jewish mother as Jews, the couple’s daughters are classified as “without religion.” It was seeing his grandson also classified as without religion that prompted him to mount his protest against the influence of the religious establishment.

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