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Israel: Controversial Loyalty Oath Undermines Democracy

By Gilad Lotan

In the past week, the Israeli cabinet approved by a 22-8 vote the proposed amendment to Israel's Citizenship Law, which would require all those seeking citizenship to pledge allegiance to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state.” To become law, it must pass three Knesset votes in the upcoming months.

Attempts to enforce recognition of Israel as uniquely Jewish have been deeply controversial, particularly among Israel's Arab citizens, who make up a fifth of the country's population. Some claim Bibi Netanyahu is playing straight into the hands of Avigdor Lieberman's nationalist party doctrine. Other logic seems to be “we must demand from ourselves what Israel is asking others to recognize”, referencing Israel's request from the Palestinians to recognize it as a Jewish nation-state. Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni condemned the cabinet's approval, describing it as “politics at its worst” and “political horse-trading”.

In a blog post about the topic, Orit Kamir reminds us that such laws were previously banned:

There are Democratic countries that request a loyalty oath from new citizens; immigrants asking to receive citizenship. There are countries that request new citizens to study their culture, history and language. These are fair and desired requests. The State of Israel does not do this, because it provides automatic citizenship to Jews, not asking them for anything except their religion.

Historic reminder: In the 80's, Meir Kahana called against the declaration of the state, requesting to cancel the section boasting equality ('a State for all its citizens'), to leave only a zionist, religious and non-democratic declaration. His party was outlawed, and he was publically condemned. What happened that 20 years later we don't see the latent danger in precisely this move?

The following Facebook group has been gathering Israelis to rally against the law. Following is an excerpt of a conversation between Israeli group members and Israeli opponents:

Dean Michaely writes:

You guys don't accept Israel as a Jewish and democratic state? You don't accept the Israeli declaration of independence? So leave this place.
Because all we're doing, like every country in the world, especially a country in such critical state as ours, is requesting a loyalty oath from our citizens. The reason is simple - people receive citizenship here and then blow themselves up or shoot in public, and claim that they don't accept this country's right to exist. We we can do here is initial filtering, for the benefit of accepting our country and its nature - Jewish and democratic.

Barak Granot adds a sarcastic response:

When was the last time that you saw someone blow up or shoot here? Baruch Goldstein was a long time ago. Also the Rabbi Uzi Meshulam. Maybe you mean the underground crime organizations that blow up cars? Or maybe you're talking about Eden Natan Zadeh who started shooting in an Arab-Israeli town? But wait… these are all wholly Israeli citizens. So what exactly are you claiming?

Daniel Oz adds:

Its Bibi & Lieberman who don't accept Israel as Jewish and Democratic, otherwise they wouldn't propose this fascist law, that conveys a lack of confidence in Israel's Jewish nature and is, in effect, an attempt to cancel the democracy in order to support a national-racial Jewish population.

Ziv Gur-arye writes:

We have a country with many people (not only Arabs) who do not recognize it and are loyal to those who are currently enemies of the State (although we'd be thrilled if in the future they will change their ways, even though the chances are tiny given the complete control of Hamas in Gaza).
Only those who see themselves as Israeli should live here. The State of Palestine will rise in the future, and there all those who see themselves as Palestinians will live. In the USA and other countries people must declare their loyalty to the state. Why are there extremists that are against this proposal?
If you are really devoted to preserving the democracy, you need to respect the oath and request to apply it to every Israeli citizen, regardless of sex or race.

Dean posts an additional response:

Barak you are wrong about many things. Israel was given to the Jews and Palestine to the Palestinians. The reason that Arabs stay here is the fact that government stipends are excellent, much more than they'd receive in any other Arab state.

Daniel Oz - this is not a fascist law proposal. It exists in many other countries that are not fascist. This is a democratic, Jewish country - not democratic muslim. This is the nature of the country if we like it or not.

And by the way, the proposal passed a democratic vote, just like the cancellation of the Turkish constitution… Please welcome Bibi for the democratic nature of this proposal.

Following are two posts from Twitter:

assiazar writes:

Without loyalty, there's no citizenship. We will pay for this sentence.

Irwunsch retweets a post by sethacohen33:

Bradley Burston compiles a list of things you can do to help prevent the law:

The law must have the support of the Likud [27 seats] and Labor [13] in order to pass. Write to Prime Minister and Likud Chair Benjamin Netanyahu and to Defense Minister and Labor Chair Ehud Barak to urge them to bar the bill from passage. The individual e-mail addresses of all Likud MKs may be found by clicking their names on the Knesset website. Senior Likud MKs Benny Begin, Dan Meridor and Michael Eitan, as well as Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin have already spoken out strongly against the Loyalty Oath. Others are believed to have serious reservations, and may be persuaded to abstain or work to keep the bill from reaching the Knesset floor.

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