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Israel court upholds DNA testing to prove Judaism

Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu in Athens, Greece on 2 January 2020 [Yiannis Liakos/Anadolu Agency]
Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu in Athens, Greece on 2 January 2020 [Yiannis Liakos/Anadolu Agency]

The much-derided and controversial discipline of using DNA to prove one’s race, religion and nationality has been upheld by the Israeli High Court following a legal challenge to its use in the determination of Jewishness. A panel of High Court justices rejected a petition against the Chief Rabbinate and the rabbinical court’s ruling that DNA testing to prove one’s Judaism should be allowed.

In the legal challenge, which according to Haaretz was filed by Yisrael Beitenu’s Avigdor Lieberman and several private petitioners, the judges dismissed their case that the rabbinate acted in a discriminatory manner by demanding DNA tests to prove one’s Judaism.

The case re-opens an ongoing feud over conducting genetic tests to determine who is and isn’t a Jew. With Israel electing to define itself in racial terms by declaring itself to be a “Jewish state”, conception of race as something existing in the blood, crushed civic notions of race and nationality, upon which modern democratic states are established.

READ : Netanyahu uses DNA claim to deny Palestinian right to homeland

Israel’s matrimonial law which is religious, not civil, has also meant that couples are required to prove their Jewishness through DNA testing if their heritage is in doubt. In Israel Jews can marry Jews, but intermarriage with Muslims or Christians is not permitted. This means that when a Jewish couple want to tie the knot, they are required by law to prove their Jewishness to the Rabbinate according to Orthodox tradition, which defines Jewish ancestry as being passed down through the mother.

According to the court’s decision DNA, “testing can only benefit the person being tested, whether he accepts the testing or refuses to undergo the test”. The judges debated the need for compiling a set of written rules around DNA testing, which they claimed would avert disagreements over its use.

During the hearing, the representative of the rabbinical court agreed to bring the matter of setting the rules in writing before the Chief Rabbinical Council.

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