The Citizenship Law amendment: Racist, just, or stupid?

By AHMAD TIBI, ARYE ELDAD, OTHERS
October 10, 2010 22:37

It is not unreasonable to ask that new citizens pledge allegiance to the principles upon which this nation was founded.




MK Ahmed Tibi

Tibi making a point in Knesset 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Necessary, but not necessarily positive

It should be understood that even those of us who strongly support this amendment see it not as a positive development, but a necessary one. In recent months we have been exposed to Knesset members who have acted in a matter that is nothing less than against the interests of our nation.

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The wording of the new oath is symbolic but it is designed to weed out potential citizens, primarily from within the Arab community. Unfortunately, too many from within this community have acted against the very nation which they should be sworn to defend – if not physically, then at least morally.

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Israel provides all of its citizens more freedoms and individual rights than any other nation in the Middle East. It is therefore not unreasonable to ask in return that new citizens pledge their allegiance to the principles upon which this nation was founded and continues to define itself today.

Even while we pride ourselves on being a land of diverse ethnicities and religions, any well-intentioned citizen should have no reservations about expressing support and identification with the State of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state,” and in so doing express solidarity with the very ideals which define us as a people and a nation.

Danny Danon is the deputy speaker of the Knesset and chairman of World Likud.

The three “No”s

Here is some breaking news: Israel has been a Jewish and democratic country for some 60 years now. No legislation, no oath and no pledge of allegiance needed.

Its Jewishness is represented in its flag, its national anthem, its Hebrew calendar and in the Jewish majority that lives here. It is Jewish in its democracy and in its politics.

Therefore, seemingly, it makes sense to amend the Citizenship Law. But it’s also completely unnecessary.

There are three “No”s to the amendment passed Sunday in the cabinet.

First, it’s not the right time: Recently, a delegitimization movement is developing in the West, the part of the world to which Israel claims to belong. The timing of this amendment will only add fuel to the fire of this growing campaign against Israel.

Second, it’s not appropriate: The government has been making efforts to diminish the gap between Arab citizens of Israel – many of whom, unfortunately describe themselves as Palestinians and therefore as outsiders – and the Jewish majority. This amendment will drive them into the open arms of Palestinian identity and might even exclude them from the Israeli collective altogether.

The third “no” is the most important: it’s not the main issue. Who are these people who are supposed to take the oath? Who are these prospective citizens which this law targets? Is it worth the public outrage? But there are also three “Yes”s which the government stubbornly ignores. “Yes” to Jewish identity education, “yes” to teaching democratic values in school, and “yes” to the inclusion of non-Orthodox Jews in Israeli [religious] life.

This is how Netanyahu can sharpen Israel’s national character as a Jewish and democratic state. The prime minister chose to ignore these issues and preferred the “No”s. He is satisfied with an unnecessary amendment which does more harm than good.

Dr. Nachman Shai is a Kadima MK and a former IDF spokesman.

A bad bargain?

The passing of the amendment to the Citizenship Law to reflect the ‘Jewish and democratic State of Israel’ is a symbolic statement. It does not have, to my chagrin, any practical political significance.

It will not help revoke the citizenships of enemies of this state – who do not hesitate to say they want the Jewish and democratic State of Israel to be something else entirely. It will also not stop the yearning of many Arab residents of Judea and Samaria to become Israeli citizens through marriage. This country that they hate so much, remains the object of their heart’s desire and they are willing to become citizens of a Jewish state, in order to turn it into a binational state.

The new amendment is significant in that it strengthens the national character of the Jews who are already citizens and those who wish to join this nation. We musn’t make light of this law but we should consider its advantages along with its disadvantages. Netanyahu gave his support to the bill as a reward to Israel Beiteinu in exchange for something. This “something” is still not obvious.

If the only thing it sought to accomplish was the embellishment of Avigdor Lieberman in the eyes of Israel Beiteinu’s constituents, so that he doesn’t come across as someone who only spews out empty slogans – so be it.

But if, with his support, Netanyahu has bought Lieberman's silence in exchange for the extension of the construction freeze in the settlements, or his support to cede lands in the framework of the negotiations, the amendment will have cost us our sovereignty. Then we’ll know that we’ve negotiated a bad deal.

Arye Eldad is a National Union MK.

Another gem from the house of Lieberman

The most recent initiative from the house of Lieberman is yet another example of what is by now an established modus operandi – how to appear to be doing something without solving anything.

Should Lieberman and the government have proposed a comprehensive immigration law, which would finally make it clear for non-Jews, whether immigrant workers or Arab spouses, who gets to be a citizen, if at all, for what reasons and through which process – and which would also erase the shameful practice of Israel’s granting of citizenship to Jews, only to tell them upon their becoming citizens, that when it comes to marriages and burials they are not sufficiently Jewish – that would have been something.

Within the context of a comprehensive immigration law that would properly address the question of non- Jews who seek to become citizens in the homeland of the Jewish people it would have made perfect sense for the process to include, among other things, the knowledge of Hebrew and the history of Israel and the Jewish people, and a declaration to preserve the State of Israel as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people.

Barring a comprehensive law, the current proposal is nothing but stupid, inflammatory, and as many of Lieberman’s proposals, great for the press, but for Israel – worse than useless.

Einat Wilf is a Labor MK, a fellow with the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute and a member of the President’s Conference Steering Committee.

Jewish, but not democratic

This amendment to add “the Jewish and democratic State of Israel” to the declaration of loyalty is part of the Israel Beiteinu doctrine. It draws on the Avigdor Lieberman spectacle at the UN podium last month where he called for a population exchange. Netanyahu is playing straight into Israel Beiteinu’s hands even as he boasts that it was his idea to begin with and that he too wants to have prospective citizens swear allegiance to a “Jewish and democratic State of Israel.”

It’s doubtful that the government has actually given some thought as to how this is supposed to be implemented.

How will a potential Arab citizen fulfill the obligation of keeping Israel “Jewish”? What will said Arab citizen do if the millions of immigrants from the FSU decide that they want to go back? Should he stand at the entrance to the airport, trying to prevent them from leaving? Or perhaps he should commit suicide in order to keep the demographic balance? Or convert to Judaism and join a Zionist movement? This country, with ministers such as Lieberman, Neeman and Yishai, and with full participation from Labor head Ehud Barak, is sticking it to the Arabs. They are trying to send a message that they are the landlords and the Arab are mere tenants, guests in a country that is part of our heritage. They create an atmosphere of increasing suffocation and take oppressive nationalist steps that cannot be considered even remotely democratic.

And even as Israel markets itself as the only democracy in the Middle East, it treats the Arab-Palestinian as a fifth column representing an existential threat to the state.

Here is the level of perceived threat each group represents, in ascending order: 1. Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel 2. Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem 3. Palestinians west of the barrier 4. Palestinians east of the barrier 5. Palestinians of the Gaza Strip Until Israel starts treating Palestinians, many who live in its borders, as people who also have rights to this land and not just partial rights in the land, we will all keep treading water and keep uttering that Israel is a Jewish and democratic state – democratic for the Jews and Jewish to the Arabs.

Dr. Ahmad Tibi is a Palestinian citizen of Israel and is deputy speaker of the Knesset

I would not take the oath

Does anyone really understand what “Jewish and democratic” means? Cultural Zionists from Ben-Gurion to Yehuda Amichai did. They assumed a democracy with a Jewish character would advance the Hebrew language, whose modern revival was the real Zionist revolution.

The Declaration of Independence assumed just such a Hebrew republic when it mandated that all citizens – from any “race” and “religion,” and irrespective of individual “conscience” – might contribute to a common life that was Jewish in the national sense, but did not presume to straighten the crooked timber.

Today, then, our everyday words contain the nuances of Jewish history and literatures (the state is not named Edom, after all) but leave space to welcome anyone willing to be acculturated, even Arab writers like Salam Masalcha, say. This approach to nationality is common throughout the democratic world, from the European Union to Quebec. No other conception of Jewish can be democratic because it makes a nonsense of equality.

Is this the “Jewish” Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman expects loyalty to? No. He wants a state in which Halacha, and its rabbinic courts, have civil responsibilities. He wants citizenship and other material privileges to be based on J-positive blood or conversion by Orthodox law.

He wants a state whose founding is justified and capital established, not by standards of international law, but congregational presumptions about divine will. He wants a state that purports to represent Jews everywhere, as if the majority of liberal American Jews do not blush for him.

Now, Neeman says all immigrants – not just Arabs – should take an oath to his totalitarian idea. I would not have when I first came – and would not now.

Bernard Avishai is adjunct professor of business at Hebrew University and the author of the recently published The Hebrew Republic.

It’s not racism, it’s stupidity

In recent days, Israel has been pounded by a storm of controversy, a great sound and fury signifying nothing. The word “racism” has been heard in the Israeli media on average once every 10 minutes. We have defeated ourselves.

It’s possible to criticize an amendment that makes loyalty a condition of becoming a citizen. Racism is not part of the equation.

The law is not against Israeli Arabs, and also, at this point, not against Palestinians seeking permanent resident status in Israel. The amendment is meant to affect mainly those seeking citizenship, for instance from the Ukraine or Russia, countries from which most of the requests for citizenship come from (hundreds per year, most of which are approved). One can accuse Avigdor Lieberman of being many things, but anti-Russian or anti-Ukrainian isn’t one of them.

Our media doesn’t bother with the facts. There was no public debate. There was only a campaign against the “racist” amendment. There is no reason to go searching for delegitimization in the countries of the world. The Israeli media has done enough of that by itself.

At the core of the issue, the amendment is at once both correct and idiotic. It is correct considering it adopts the norms already in place in many democratic countries because it applies only to those seeking citizenship, not those who are already citizens. Also, Israel has the right to use any and all democratic means to distance itself from the hostile elements within, who oppose the very idea of the Jewish democratic state.

But it’s also a stupid and excessive amendment because there is no connection between the just nature of it and the results. Indeed, whoever wants to become an Israeli, be they Russian or Palestinian, will have to agree to declare that he believes in the coming of the messiah and the reincarnation of souls, as Judaism posits.

The true focus of this debate should not be on the loyalty oath but on the Citizenship Law itself. The law is meant to prevent a massive return of Palestinians using marriage as a means. Instead of addressing the real issues, the Israeli government let itself be dragged into an unnecessary storm.

This country has no clear immigration laws and it will pay dearly for this.

Ben-Dror Yemini is a columnist at Ma’ariv, where a full version of this excerpt appears.


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