Israeli soldiers’ demand to know one’s religion, begs two larger questions: What does it mean to “be” a certain religion? And for what purpose is the question being asked?
“Religion” here has nothing to do with theology, but with descent, one’s lineage — essential information for a state founded and perpetuated on the basis of ethnic identity. If Israel’s obsession with ethnic-religious identity appears altogether farcical from the outside, for non-Jews under its rule that “identity” is the mark that runs their lives.
Israel has in recent years suffered some embarrassment among its “liberal” supporters, with racist tirades from its leadership and the 2018 “Basic Law” that spells out as legal principle the ethnic supremacist foundation of the state. Contrary to analyses commonly heard from pundits, neither the Basic Law nor the blunt candor of Israel’s recent leaders reflects any shift to the political right. Rather, they demonstrate newfound comfort in flaunting what the state has always been, as the stark reality on the ground becomes increasingly normalised.
Thomas Suárez’ books and articles on Palestine can be seen here. A Juilliard-trained violinist who has performed around the world, he is a former faculty member of Palestine’s National Conservatory of Music.