Global Market Data
Global News Journal
Pakistan: Now or Never?
Front Row Washington
The Great Debate
Personal Finance Video
Life & Culture
A selection of our best photos from the past 24 hours. Full Article
Secret panel can put Americans on "kill list'
05 Oct 2011
Jobs authorized biography so his kids can know him
Hong Kong teen's somber design for Jobs a cyber hit
06 Oct 2011
Job gains ease recession fears but still weak
Apple's iPhone: still the hottest ticket around
Exclusive: Democrats push tax hikes first in deficit talks
Secret panel can put Americans on ”kill list’
About 400 arrested in Wall Street protest
Children pay for North Korea food crisis
Thu, Oct 6 2011
The inside operation at Occupy Wall Street
Wed, Oct 5 2011
Apple's future without Jobs is unclear
Thu, Oct 6 2011
Israeli forces state to change "Jewish" classification
Panetta urges Israel, Palestinians to negotiate
Mon, Oct 3 2011
Israel accepts Quartet call for peace talks
Sun, Oct 2 2011
Libyan Jew returns home after 44-year exile
Sat, Oct 1 2011
Israel approves 1,100 more settlement homes
Tue, Sep 27 2011
Abbas stakes Palestinian claim to state at U.N.
Fri, Sep 23 2011
Analysis & Opinion
Jewish settlers’ “Price Tag” mosque-burning campaign spreads to Israel
Top U.S. court hears church-state case on fired Lutheran school teacher
An Orthodox Jewish worshipper prays at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, ahead of Yom Kippur in Jerusalem's Old City, October 7, 2011.
Credit: Reuters/Darren Whiteside
By Maayan Lubell
Fri Oct 7, 2011 8:57am EDT
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - 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.
"I was never a practicing Jew and I don't believe in God," he said. "When the Jews were scattered across the world, religion bound us together, but we don't need this any more."
Tensions in the Holy Land run high on issues of citizenship, ethnicity and faith. All three categories are used in the census to classify Israelis, the majority of whom are listed as "Jewish" under both religion and ethnicity.
Kaniuk and his supporters from within the Jewish secular majority demand a clear separation of religion and state, and say they suffer religious coercion.
Public transport on the Jewish Sabbath is at best scarce, rabbis have powers in family matters and the state only recognizes rabbinical marriages for Jews who wed within its borders. Those who want a civil service must marry abroad.
Yael Katz-Mastbaum, the lawyer who advocated Kaniuk's case, said that since the Tel Aviv court issued its ruling last week she had been flooded with dozens of queries by Israelis asking her to help them follow in Kaniuk's footsteps.
"These aren't young people acting on a whim, but older people who have thought this through after years of feeling stifled by the religious establishment," Katz-Mastbaum said.
She said the ruling might mean Jewish couples who both changed their classification to non-religious could wed in a civil ceremony.
Amos Amir, 76, a retired air force general, hired Katz-Mastbaum after he heard of Kaniuk's win.
"What once was moderate, sane and dignified Judaism has been overrun by an extremist, even racist, Judaism that is damaging an entire religion and stealing the state away," he said.
Mickey Gitzin, director of Be Free Israel movement that advocates freedom from religion, said he too has been contacted by dozens of Israelis looking to change their status to "without religion," following Kaniuk's case.
"This is mostly symbolic. It has few practical implications but it is still a meaningful step," he said.
About 75 percent of Israel's 7.7 million population are classified as Jewish, almost 17 percent are Muslim, about two percent Christian, a little fewer Druze and about 4 percent classified "without religion."
Palestinians say Israeli demands to recognize the country as a Jewish state would compromise the Arab minority and would effectively remove the right of return of Palestinian refugees who fled or were forced from their homes in Arab-Israeli wars.
Kaniuk's battle was not tied to diplomatic tussles aimed at ending a decades-old conflict, but was instead a thumb in the eye to what many Israelis see is a growing rise of religious zeal at the heart of the state.
"This was just one case, but perhaps I have opened the way for many more people who are fed up with the religious establishment. Maybe one day there will be true separation of religion and state with a pluralistic society," Kaniuk said.
(Editing by Crispian Balmer)
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
The 13 lines the Israel lobby want you to believe:
1. Israel is in danger of being pushed into the sea by Iran
2. It is co-operating in the establishment of a Palestinian state
3. Its illegal settlements are supported by Jews worldwide
4. Although a secular state, it claims the land to be God given
5. It does not employ torture on any of its 7000 political prisoners
6. Its political system is not corrupt & its judiciary is independent
7. Its military and police operate under international law
8. It does not use chemical weapons against civilians
9. It has no disproportionate influence either in congress or senate
10. There is no secret stockpile of weapons of mass destruction
11. It has signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty
12. It wants an equitable peace and believes in human rights
13. Its policy of state-sponsored assassination is legitimate
Oct 07, 2011 10:07am EDT -- Report as abuse
It sounds like its not just the Palestinians under the cosh.
Oct 07, 2011 10:16am EDT -- Report as abuse
See All Comments »
Add Your Comment
Social Stream (What's this?)
Back to top
New York Legal
Support & Contact
Advertise With Us
Connect with Reuters
Our Flagship financial information platform incorporating Reuters Insider
An ultra-low latency infrastructure for electronic trading and data distribution
A connected approach to governance, risk and compliance
Our next generation legal research platform
Our global tax workstation
About Thomson Reuters
Thomson Reuters is the world's largest international multimedia news agency, providing investing news, world news, business news, technology news, headline news, small business news, news alerts, personal finance, stock market, and mutual funds information available on Reuters.com, video, mobile, and interactive television platforms. Thomson Reuters journalists are subject to an Editorial Handbook which requires fair presentation and disclosure of relevant interests.
NYSE and AMEX quotes delayed by at least 20 minutes. Nasdaq delayed by at least 15 minutes. For a complete list of exchanges and delays, please click here.