Twenty-First Century Citizens

Reverting to the original meaning of citizenship.

Danny Hershtal,

OpEds guest
Arutz 7

During his inaugural address in 1961 President John F. Kennedy told American citizens to "ask not what your
The Interior Ministry was within its legal scope to deny a draft dodger living abroad a new Israeli passport.
country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." He challenged the citizens of his nation to see in their citizenship a responsibility and an obligation to their country.

At the beginning of this month, a Jerusalem District Court judge invoked Kennedy's famous quotation in a ruling in favor of the Interior Ministry's right to withhold Israeli passport renewal from military service evaders.

Judge Noam Sohlberg decided that the Interior Ministry was within its legal scope to deny a draft dodger living abroad a new Israeli passport. His decision stated, "The interior minister's policy of linking the right to obtain a passport to the fulfillment of military duty as mandated by law is both logical and reasonable," and that "individual existence is not separate from public [life]; rather, they are intertwined. This relationship is one of give-and-take, which we cannot do without."

Did this judicial decision veer from the normative expectations of citizens in a democracy? Can the rights of citizenship be linked to the responsibilities?

All free societies today believe that the rights of a criminal can be abrogated, particularly the culprit's freedom of movement, in any society in which prison sentences are handed out. Even the reasonable suspicion of a crime can be cause for an arrest. Clearly, our rights are tied to our adherence to the law. Judge Sohlberg, though, made an important comment on the relationship between the citizen and the state.

Citizenship in the twenty-first century has become much more complex than it had been in the recent past. Ironically, though, the complexity of citizenship has caused the concept to revert to its original intentions.

The original purpose of citizenship was to create an allegiance between the citizen and the polity granting it. The idea was to create a symbiotic relationship between the citizen and the state or empire, in which certain rights were granted on the expectation of allegiance to the regent.

In 1651 Thomas Hobbes posited that the concept of organized society was based on the need for creating a means of mutual self-defense and legislation, to protect the citizen from outside invasion or internal anarchy. Therefore, it was expected that the citizens contribute to societal order and take part in its defense.

During the Industrial Age, the definition of citizenship evolved, or perhaps devolved, into a rote association based on parentage or place of birth. Practically, this made little difference in a world with few mass migrations, where the vast majority of people lived, died and maintained inseparable ties to the land of their and their parents' birth. The sheer difficulty of international travel meant that emigrants usually cut off all ties to their old lands to become citizens of the new.

Today, international travel and migration are common, as is having transnational business interests and residences. Many people have developed a transnational identity, giving an amorphous meaning to allegiance to one nation. Passports have become convenient forms of ID for travel, but no longer represent a real association to any state.

The Israel Beiteinu party has long been cognizant of the changes to citizenship in the twenty-first century, and the
It is time for citizenship to be reassessed.
trend of many Western nations to require responsibility and allegiance from the citizens to whom the state grants services. As Judge Sohlberg stated, "No
society can be established without individuals carrying out their responsibilities to public institutions."

Judge Sohlberg has made an important contribution to the discussion about the reverting nature of citizenship, and we intend to continue to lead this discussion to logical conclusions. The discourse on citizenship is necessary, and we welcome the input of all parties and groups, provided that the debate yields practical, relevant laws. We intend to involve all citizens in this discussion, as did Minister Uzi Landau at the recent Israel Beiteinu "Anglos" event.

It is time for citizenship to be reassessed and returned to its original intention: to indicate the allegiance of a citizen to a state. The state must protect the rights of its citizens, but it must also demand the allegiance necessary for that state to function.