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Should Israel enact the new loyalty oath?

Herzl and the Declaration of Independence, by Yaniv Yaakubovich

Why not?… But on the other hand, why now?… And for what reason, really?… These are some of the questions the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, will have to grapple with in its next session, before voting on the new cabinet resolution. Passed on Sunday, October 10, it states that all new non-Jews applying to become citizens of Israel would have to take a loyalty oath that will include a new amendment, specifying that Israel is “a Jewish and a democratic state.” The vote was 22 to 8, with the five ministers from the Labor Party voting against, and three more ministers from the Likud party joining them. Among them was Dan Meridor, who was quoted as saying after the vote, “The law is harmful and causes damage.” Tzipi Livni, the leader of Kadima, the largest party in the Knesset, also objects to this amendment. It is not clear, therefore, whether in its present wording it will have a majority to pass it into a new law.

It is a question, however, that each of us should contemplate: How will we vote if given the opportunity? (At the bottom I added a new poll where you can actually vote yes or no. Please do so.) Let’s examine the three questions I posed above, starting with “why not?” After all, Israel is a Jewish State by definition since its foundation. The booklet carrying that name: The Jewish State (or more accurately: The State of the Jews) was Theodor Herzl’s original proclamation, published in 1896, which put the foundation not only to the first Zionist congress a year later in Basel, but to the establishment of the state of Israel as well. Menachem Begin said that this is a book that had changed the fate of a whole nation of people. And indeed, some 114 years later, and sixty-two years after the signing Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the Jewish state is a reality, not a dream.

This seminal document, the Declaration of Independence, had promised to “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex;” and to “guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.” This promise was a hard act to follow though, in light of all the wars that complicated the relations, and loyalties, between Jews and Arabs within Israel. So why change it now? What’s the reason beyond the wish to add fuel to the fire, and undo the promise ingrained in this declaration? Why wave a red rug in front of the Arab citizens of Israel, and by and large the whole world? Is it because the leading force in putting this cart in motion, Avigdor Lieberman, and his right-wing extremists from the Yisrael Beiteinu party, are worried that the peace process might succeed in bearing fruits? Or are they worried their illegal actions of building settlements in the occupied territories will, eventually, bring about a state where the Arabs will no longer be a minority? It is for this reason that immediately following the decision by the cabinet, Israel also issued a statement, saying it will extend the freeze on the settlement activity, to enable the peace process to continue, only if the Palestinians would agree to declare Israel a Jewish state.

I’m a firm believer, as I had stated here before that Israel is, and should remain a Jewish state. A state based on the principles Herzl had envisioned. Not a state that, because of the actions of the people who are now about to enact this new law, is threatened to lose its Jewish, and democratic identity. After all, they intent also on bringing two million Arabs into greater Israel, depriving them of the rights promised them in the Declaration of Independence. As Abdel Rahman Zuabi, the first Arab to have served on Israel’s highest court told Israel Radio last week: “if the amendment passes, then there will be two countries in the world that in my opinion are racist: Iran, which is an Islamic state, and Israel, which is the Jewish state.” Do we really need that now?

I remember some years back, when I was the Executive Director of the Hillel House in UC Davis and Sacramento State, when one of the brightest, most Jewishly involved student came into my office with a question on her lips: Is Israel a racist state? I was alarmed, and immediately said that it is not. But she insisted, since in her international relations studies the professor, and most of the students, declared that to be the case, since Israel promises automatic citizenship only to Jewish people. We went into a long discussion, and I believe read together the Declaration of Independence. The point is, why make things even more difficult on us in the international arena? Why isolate Israel even further? We’ve been accused already of having an apartheid state. This will damage our fragile relations with the Arab population of the sate of Israel even more. It is, in short, unnecessary. Herzl said the necessary things already in his State of the Jews booklet. And when David Ben-Gorion and his fellow signatories made the Declaration of Independence official, they sealed it for eternity. Why change it. Or as our wise sages said a long time ago: “Whoever adds—worsen!”

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