Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu directed Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman on Monday night to prepare a bill obliging all people seeking Israeli citizenship, including Jews immigrating here under the Law of Return, to pledge allegiance to Israel as a “Jewish, democratic state.”
The move comes just a week after the public storm over the cabinet’s approval of an oath of allegiance that would be recited only by those not eligible to enter the country under the Law of Return, which would mainly affect Palestinians seeking naturalization because they are married to Israeli Arabs, or foreign workers.
The loyalty oath is contrary to Jewish values
Tibi: Israel is democratic for Jews but Jewish for Arabs
This decision had sparked angry claims, both inside Israel and abroad, including by Jewish groups overseas, that the proposal discriminated against non-Jews.
The Anti-Defamation League’s national director Abe Foxman, who met Netanyahu on Monday, said he raised with the prime minister the concern that this and other declared Israeli policies on conversion and foreign workers’ children, were being used by critics to label Israel a “racist state.”
According to Foxman, Netanyahu said he was concerned about this and would look for a way to repair that perception.
Netanyahu said Monday evening the government expected that everyone who wanted to become an Israeli citizen would recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, and as a democratic country.
It is no coincidence, he said, that there was a wide consensus among the public regarding Israel’s identity as a Jewish, democratic state.
“Israel was not founded as just another state,” he said. “It was founded as the sovereign state for the Jewish people on its historic homeland, and as a democratic state for all its citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike, who enjoy equal civil rights.”
The prime minister said anyone who wanted Israel citizenship needed to recognize “these two lofty ideals.”
Netanyahu’s new proposal prompted further criticism from some MKs on Monday.
Minorities Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman (Labor) said the change “doesn’t heal the damage to Israel internationally and to relations with Israeli Arabs.”
“This is a delusional decision, as the previous one was,” MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) said in a statement Monday night. “If there are Arabs who are not loyal to the State of Israel and wish to act against it, a declaration will change nothing.
“For Jews, for whom the Law of Return was passed, the declaration has no meaning either, and the gentiles who immigrate by the power of the Law of Return do not understand the wording of the declaration, and come to the country for totally different reasons.
“Instead of the prime minister taking care of the citizens’ real problems, like the housing crisis, he is dealing with nonsense.
Besides [responding to] the disagreement over such a proposal, it will benefit neither the state nor its citizens. I will adamantly object to this proposal, and I hope it won’t have a majority in the Knesset,” Gafni said.
United Arab List MK Ahmed Tibi responded to Netanyahu’s decision by saying that the bill was still wrong.
“Netanyahu and [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman are competing in their fascism,” Tibi said. “Forcing Arabs and Jews to identify ethically and ideologically with the state is completely unnecessary.”
Kadima MK Shlomo Molla, originally from Ethiopia, accused Netanyahu of zigzagging and harming the rights of immigrants that he said were guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence.
“The prime minister should start acting like a leader and stop dragging after the demagoguery of Lieberman,” Molla said.
The Prime Minister’s Office denied that Monday night’s decision to oblige all immigrants to take the oath had anything to do with the public outcry that followed the cabinet decision, saying that Netanyahu had supported in principle a proposal raised by Neeman at that cabinet meeting that all immigrants take the oath.
After this was opposed by Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister
Yuli Edelstein, Netanyahu asked Neeman to look into the matter further.
Monday night’s decision, according to the Prime Minister’s Office, came
following Neeman’s follow-up.
In the original cabinet decision, it was written that the justice
minister would prepare a proposal to have the oath of allegiance be
obligatory to all potential immigrants asking for citizenship. It is
that proposal that Netanyahu now wants Neeman to bring to the
Ministerial Committee on Legislation, and then to the Knesset.
If a cabinet minister opposes this change, the bill is likely to come back to the cabinet for further discussion.