Israel loyalty oath bill stirs Arab-Israeli unease
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pushing for a loyalty oath that would require non-Jewish candidates for Israeli citizenship to pledge loyalty to Israel as a 'Jewish state.'
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The amendment was made public at a sensitive diplomatic juncture. On Friday and Saturday, the Arab League is expected to issue a statement regarding the future of Palestinian participation in the peace talks after Israel ended a moratorium on settlement building. There have been intensified diplomatic contacts over the last two weeks to avoid a breakdown of the talks.Skip to next paragraph
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"There are direct talks with the Palestinians and they are refusing to recognizing Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, in contrast to the UN in 1948," says Tal Nahum, the spokesman for Foreign Minister Lieberman's political party, Yisrael Beiteinu. "It's very important for us that the rest of the world will recognize Israel as a Jewish state … This is what this amendment is for."
Are Israel's Jewish and democratic identities in conflict?
Israelis have become more alarmed in recent years at what many here consider a growing campaign internationally to delegitimize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.
The country's one-fifth Arab minority sees the amendment to the citizenship law as new evidence that there is a conflict between Israel's dual identity as Jewish and democratic. There has been growing support among Palestinians for the so-called "one state" solution, which would essentially give everyone living in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel citizenship in one country, which would end the exclusive Jewish character of the state.
Jaffar Farah, the director of the Israeli civil rights group Mossawa, noted that the bill would have little practical impact because family members of Israeli Arabs have been barred from becoming naturalized citizens under legislation passed during the height of the Palestinian uprising. Still, that doesn't ease the sense of injury.
"This is a dictatorship of the majority," he says. "We see this as part of the delegitimization campaign against our existence in Israel, which is led by the current government since it was established."
Law Professor Stern says it's reasonable for Israel to require naturalized citizens to recite such a pledge because Israel's quasi-constitutional Basic Laws mention the country's identity as a Jewish and democratic state. What is problematic, he said, is enforcing that requirement solely on non-Jews. Under Israel's Law of Return, Jewish requests for citizenship are granted automatically.
"In order to make it totally kosher we need to demand the same kind of pledge of everyone," he says. "If we want people to commit to a set of values, what does it make a difference whether they are Jewish or not?"