Loyalty oath splits Israeli press

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Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman
Image caption,
Ultra-nationalist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has promoted the bill

Proposals to introduce a law compelling non-Jews seeking Israeli citizenship to swear allegiance to Israel as a ''Jewish and democratic state'' have generated a lively debate in Israeli papers.

One commentator defends the proposal as something which chimes with Israel's aspirations as a Jewish and democratic state, as expressed in its declaration of independence.

Another writer condemns the proposal as "racist", while another criticises it for obliging aspirant citizens to sign up to religious beliefs they might not hold. One commentator says that by re-introducing the proposal Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has bowed to pressure from ultra-nationalists, who may end up toppling him anyway.

One Palestinian commentator suggests the proposed law would strip Israel of its ''fragile democracy'' while another says some people might reject citizenship to avoid having to take the oath.

Nahum Barnea in Yediot Aharonot

The proposed loyalty law does not seem racist: it is really racist. It obliges non-Jews to declare that they would be loyal to the Jewish state but exempts Jews from this obligation… With this law Israel buys an exit ticket from the family of nations… The new law presents (ultra-nationalist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman) Lieberman as a hero, as the real ruler of the government, and (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu, who opposed it but now is adopting it, as a wimp. Lieberman will make Netanyahu more and more a wimp until he topples him. Netanyahu sees this and cooperates with it.

In the last two days a storm has been raging in Israel over nothing… The word 'racism' is being heard in the media every 10 minutes. We defeated ourselves. It is permissible to criticize the proposed amendment in the matter of loyalty as condition for naturalization. There is no racism here. In principle, it does not apply to Israel's Arabs, and at this stage, also not Palestinians who seek permanent residency within the framework of family reunions. The amendment of the law is supposed to apply in principle to those seeking naturalization, for instance, from the Ukraine and Russia… The amendment is just and stupid - just because it adopts norms existing in many democratic countries; stupid and needless, for he who wants to become a citizen of Israel would agree and declare that he believes in the coming of the messiah and the transmigration of souls.

The proposed amendment to the Citizenship Law doesn't really add anything to the existing demand that a person seeking to become a naturalized citizen pledge to be 'a loyal citizen of the State of Israel'. Even the Neeman-Lieberman version of the amendment, which would require recognizing Israel as a 'Jewish and democratic' state, is not an exceptional demand. Israel's credo as a Jewish and democratic state was first voiced in the Declaration of Independence, which the High Court of Justice has deemed to have constitutional significance. But the Declaration of Independence also cites the principle of equality, prohibits discrimination and calls for full integration of the state's Arab citizens in its governing institutions. The Neeman-Lieberman proposal lacks this emphasis on the state's obligation to ensure full equality for all its citizens.

If all goes as expected, the cabinet on Sunday will approve an amendment to the Citizenship and Entry Law that emphasizes Israel's status as both 'Jewish' and 'democratic'. If passed into law, naturalizing citizens who are not Jewish, such as West Bank Palestinians who marry Arab Israelis and apply for Israeli citizenship, will be obligated to pledge allegiance to the State of Israel as a 'Jewish and democratic state'. Presently one need only pledge an oath of loyalty to 'the State of Israel'…Demanding from naturalizing citizens a loyalty oath to a 'Jewish and democratic state' is a modest step that is part of a larger campaign to secure recognition for Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people. It is not so much for the prospective citizen - sincerity cannot be coerced - as it is a declaration of purpose by Jews who have returned to their historic homeland.

The Israeli citizenship law proposed by Avigdor Lieberman which is in accordance with the vision of his party is a big victory [for him] as the person has to recognise the Jewishness of the state and its democratic nature in order to acquire citizenship… Some people would have no choice but to swear the oath of loyalty while others may recoil and reject the citizenship…

In its essence this is a racist law for it makes a distinction between those who have to swear the oath. The Jew is exempt because he is necessarily a citizen and his loyalty is implicit. As for the non-Jew, he must declare his loyalty thus consecrating his inferior civil status. Moreover, there are political aims, foremost heaping obstacles before the reunion of families… Netanyahu and others must understand that the Palestinian who carries the citizenship of this state swears loyalty only to remaining in his homeland… As for the attempts to turn the political atmosphere fascist, in the end they will only harm those who care very much for the Jewish nature of the state. They disrobe Israel of its fragile democracy.

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