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Government to Debate Loyalty Pledge: PM Approves

Proposed amendment to Citizenship Law would require all aspiring citizens to pledge allegiance to a Jewish state.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 10/7/2010, 5:08 AM / Last Update: 10/7/2010, 5:04 AM

Israel news photo

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced on Wednesday that he would ask his ministers to debate and approve an amendment to the Citizenship Act, which would require anyone aspiring to become an Israeli citizen to pledge their allegiance not only to Israel, but to a Jewish democratic Israel.

The current Israeli law states that any Jewish person is automatically granted citizenship, while non-Jews are required to make a pledge of  loyalty to the “State of Israel”.

Explaining his decision, Netanyahu said that “Israel is the Jewish people's homeland. It is so in its essence, in its government, its symbols, holidays and language, and that should be reflected by its Citizenship Act.”

Netanyahu stressed that “Israel is a democratic country that affords full civil equality to all its citizens. This principle has always guided government policies, both domestic and foreign, and is a cornerstone of Israeli legislation. This principle is expressed in the term 'Jewish and democratic' and will be included in the pledge of allegiance taken by those wishing to become citizens.”

The move by Netanyahu is endorsing a similar amendment previously proposed by both Justice Minister Yaakov Ne’eman and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman, who heads the Yisrael Beiteinu party and is considered one of Netanyahu’s key partners in the coalition, has advocated a loyalty oath to the Jewish state for all Israelis, including Arab citizens. In fact, during the 2009 elections to the Knesset, Yisrael Beitenu used the slogan 'No loyalty, no citizenship’ in its campaign.

Reuters reported that Netanyahu’s proposal appeared to be designed to convince Yisrael Beiteinu and other right-wing parties to back the proposal to extend the construction freeze on homes in Judea and Samaria, which expired on September 26.

Following the announcement, MKs from both sides (those who are in favor as well as those who oppose the suggested amendment) responded.

Likud coalition chairman, MK Zeev Elkin, said that the decision to fix the Citizenship Law is “a basic requirement and natural for anyone requesting to receive Israeli citizenship who does not originally belong to the Jewish people.

“Those who do not want to recognize these things can forgo the pleasure of requesting citizenship in this country. It is strange that some Arab Knesset members who signed their own commitment to loyalty to the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state before elections hide this fact from the public and stand at the forefront of the opposition to the new amendment,” said Elkin.

MK Danny Danon (Likud) referred to Arab MKs Ahmad Tibi and Hanin Zoabi as well as former MK Azmi Bishara, and said that the need to amend the Citizenship Law arose due to thei r disloyal  behavior. “We all would give up [the amendment] but the Arab MKs must understand that the public is tired of the way they conduct themselves,” said Danon.

Yisrael Beiteinu welcomed the decision, saying that “Every citizen is obligated to preserve Israel and a Jewish and democratic state, and all the more so when one aspires to become an Israeli citizen. This is a vital, basic need, especially when there are those who wish to undermine it.”

MK Arieh Eldad (National Union) congratulated Netanyahu on the proposal, but added: “I can only hope that Netanyahu isn’t scattering crumbs meant to boost Israel's national pride because he is preparing to bulldoze settlements in Judea and Samaria, and cut down entire parts of Israeli society on his way to forming a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria.”

Meanwhile ,the opposition expressed criticism of the change. Minister of Minority Affairs Avishay Braverman called the proposal “an infuriating, irresponsible decision which will only fuel the fires of delegitimization against Israel worldwide.” Braverman added that the decision will “send a negative message to Arab citizens.”

MK Zeev Bielski (Kadima) called Netanyahu's decision “insulting, harmful, and is not enough to cement Israel's status as a Jewish democratic state.” Bielsk, former Jewish Agency head, i accused added that the amendment "will cause more harm than good, and stems from the need to please radical coalitional elements."

MK Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) said that the decision is political and does not show leadership, and added that “it is meant to cement the Arabs’ inferior class status by law. No amendment will be able to negate the Palestinian narrative, which has been recognized worldwide.”