Is Israel's 'Loyalty Oath' a Good Idea?

Many pundits say no

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The Israeli cabinet voted earlier this week to institute a new loyalty oath that requires new Israeli citizens to declare allegiance to the "Jewish, democratic state" of Israel. While loyalty oaths are the norm for becoming a citizen in any country (read the U.S. oath here), Israel's new pledge has generated controversy for its religious specification, which non-Jews are obligated to make. According to a report by the Israeli government, as of 2004, 16 percent of Israelis are Muslim and 2 percent are Christian. The new law comes in the midst of the struggling Israel-Palestine peace process. Here's what journalists and pundits have to say about the new pledge.

  • Pushing Nationalism, Resisting New Arab Citizens  Think Progress's Matthew Yglesias writes, "The concrete impact here is to make it more difficult for non-citizen Arab spouses of Arabs with Israeli citizenship to obtain citizenship. In practice, of course, anyone genuinely committed to some kind of stealth jihad strategy here is simply free to lie—such an oath inherently lacks credibility—and the real impact here is a symbolic gesture of illiberalism and formalized discrimination against Israeli Arabs. ... There are many countries in the world faced with tensions between liberalism, nationalism, and democracy and Israel’s had an unusually severe case of the disease for a while now and at the moment liberalism is losing out quite badly."
  • Alienating Israeli's Friends  The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg writes, "The bill was pushed through by Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, who is doing everything in his power to alienate Israel's friends, and to make Israel appear to be a country run by idiots. ... The law itself would be largely symbolic, since few non-Jews seek citizenship in Israel, though it would affect Palestinians who marry Israeli Arabs and then seek citizenship."
  • You Can't Be Democratic and Favor One Religion  The Boston Globe's editorial board calls this affair "reminiscent of efforts made in this country in the 19th and early 20th centuries to declare the United States to be a Christian nation. We rejected that idea then, and Israel should do the same now. The phrase itself is an oxymoron. How can a state openly favor one ethnic group over all others and declare itself to be democratic?"
  • Growing Israeli Hostility to Arabs  Ramzi Hakim writes in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (translated by Tom El-Rumi for Meedan and the Huffington Post), "Such statements indicate intentions and a strategy of action that are ready to be pulled out of the drawer in the future. It marks a new stage, 62 years since the foundation of Israel, of Israel wanting to return to defining itself by isolation from the Arab presence within the concept of 'the Jewish state'. This concept is not only 'an expression of the right to self-determination for the Jews', but is clearly saying that for the Arabs some rights are conditional on loyalty to the land, but 'they have no rights to the land', a phrase uttered by David Ben-Gurion and also repeated by Sharon."
  • 'Racism' Towards Non-Jews  The Syrian daily al-Watan's editorial board fumes (also translated by Tom El-Rumi), "This issue once again demonstrates that the "Jewishness" of the Israeli state isn't just a bargaining chip used to blackmail the Palestinians and the Arabs in general, but a racism practiced daily by the occupation forces on the ground. Similarly, the 'oath of allegiance' discriminates against every non-Jew, making it painfully clear that citizenship is based solely on ethnic affiliations which spring from a Biblical paradigm that has no meaning in the twenty-first century."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.