Thursday, 7 October 2010
Loyalty oath to 'Jewish state' set to be approved
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, demanding that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, will bring to the cabinet on Sunday a proposal whereby naturalized citizens will be asked to take an oath of loyalty to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state.”
Government officials said the decision to bring the loyalty oath to the cabinet at this time is not without political and diplomatic significance, since Israel in recent weeks has countered the Palestinian demand for a total settlement moratorium with its own demand for the PA to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
It is likely that getting the PA to give ground on recognizing Israel as a Jewish state is part of the formula being discussed between Israel and the US regarding finding ways to get an extension of some sort of the recently expired settlement moratorium.
The cabinet ministers on Sunday will be asked to approve an amendment to the Citizenship and Entry Law whereby the declaration naturalized citizens must make will read, “I declare that I will be a loyal citizen to the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and I obligate myself to respect its laws.” Up until now the wording was merely a pledge of loyalty to the State of Israel.
This declaration will not apply to new immigrants coming into the country under the Law of Return, nor will it apply to people who already have citizenship. In other words, this is not the loyalty oath Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman campaigned for during his elections, whereby Arab citizens would have to pledge allegiance to Israel as a Jewish state.
One source in the Prime Minister’s Office said that with Netanyahu demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, it was only logical that Israel make the same demand of those seeking citizenship as well. There has to be one “coherent policy,” the official said.
If the amendment passes the cabinet on Sunday, which it is expected to do, it will then go to the Knesset for approval.
“Israel is the national state of the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “This is a basic principle that guides the government in its policies, foreign and domestic. It is a cornerstone of Israeli legislation. This principle is articulated in the terminology, ‘Jewish and democratic state,’ and it is fitting that this principle will appear in the declaration of loyalty for anyone who wants to become a citizen.”
The cabinet held three discussions on this highly emotive issue in July, with a number of versions for the oath proposed in order to calm the concerns of Israeli Arabs.
Among those proposals was one by Netanyahu that defined Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people that “grants full equality to all its citizens,” another by Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor (Likud), who said that there was no need to add anything to the current declaration, and a third proposal by Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin (Likud) that the new declaration be merely a pledge to Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people.”
A government source in July said the wording of the declaration was designed to make it more difficult for Palestinians married to Israeli Arabs to gain citizenship on the basis of family unification. One of the groups that would be most impacted by the pledge would be Palestinians from beyond the Green Line married to Israeli Arabs asking for citizenship on the grounds of family reunification.
Currently there are an estimated 25,000 Israeli Arabs married to Palestinians from beyond the Green Line.
Netanyahu’s decision angered ministers on the Left and Arab Mks. Minorities Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman (Labor) called it “infuriating and irresponsible.” He said it would encourage efforts to delegitimize Israel around the world.
MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al) said the legislation “sanctioned discrimination against Arabs” and added that “no declaration can cancel the Palestinian narrative that has been accepted all over the world.”
Israel Beiteinu praised the prime minister for the move, which a party spokesman said was fulfilling a promise Netanyahu had made to Israel Beiteinu when the coalition was formed. “The obligation of every Israeli citizen to maintain Israel as a Jewish democratic state and even more so for people who are not citizens but want to be, is a fundamental and necessary need, especially when there are those who question [Israel’s character],” the party said.
National Union MK Arye Eldad said he was glad that Netanyahu realized that what he was asking of the Palestinians and the world he had to also ask potential citizens of his own country. But he expressed concern that the prime minister was only advancing patriotic legislation in order to ease future moves toward withdrawing from territory and establishing a Palestinian state.
It was not immediately clear what impact the announcement would have on efforts to keep the PA from bolting the direct talks over the settlement moratorium issue, or on whether the Arab League, at its meeting this weekend in Libya, would instruct the PA to stay or quit the talks.
Barak Ravid, Haaretz, reports: 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.
"Netanyahu has opened the legislative season with racism which he has inspired himself," said Mohammed Barka, an MK for the Hadash party, in response to Wednesday's decision. "The amendment to the citizenship law is completely racist . . . Israel's lawbooks are becoming a guide for the world's most discriminatory and racist regimes'."
In an effort to calm tensions, Netanyahu in July proposed an alternative, less devisive wording, which defined Israel as "the nation state of the Jewish people which grants full equality to all of its citizens". But the draft approved Wednesday is almost identical to the version originally put forward by hardline Justice Minister Yaakov Ne'eman and will be seen as a victory forright-wingers in Netanyahu's coalition—not least firebrand Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party made 'loyalty' the center of its campaign.