Even academics who agree with the constitutional definition of Israel as a
Jewish and democratic state have problems with the new pledge of allegiance the
government plans to enforce on non-Jews seeking citizenship.
the proposed reform, candidates for citizenship would have to make the following
pledge: “I declare that I will be a loyal citizen of the State of Israel as a
Jewish and democratic state.” The words “as a Jewish and democratic state” are
an addition to the traditional pledge.
Hebrew University political
scientist Shlomo Avineri said he had no problem with having would-be citizens
make a pledge that went beyond the minimal promise to obey the country’s laws.
In the US, he pointed out, new citizens must promise to defend the country,
serve in the army, and perform any civilian service.
continued, it would be a mistake to force newcomers to pledge allegiance to
Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, because no one really knows what “a
Jewish state” (or a democratic one, for that matter) means.
“It is an
intentionally vague concept so that everyone in Israel can imagine it in his own
way,” said Avineri. “If Israelis have no uniform conception of what a Jewish
state is, how can we expect someone from the outside to know?” Avineri proposed
that new citizens should pledge allegiance to “the legitimacy of
The Arab states have always charged that Israel is an
illegitimate state, he explained.
Since many new citizens will come from
Arab countries in the context of family unification, they should be asked
precisely to declare that Israel is legitimate.
According to Hebrew
University professor and Israel Democracy Institute deputy president Mordechai
Kremnitzer, most laws are meant to solve problems.
“This law is unique in
the sense that it creates problems,” he said.
He started out with the
premise that the bill would not affect Palestinians seeking to marry Israelis
and move to Israel, because family reunification was already blocked by another
As for other foreigners, he continued, “There is no phenomenon of a
new Israeli who proved disloyal to the state after becoming a
citizen. Therefore, there is no problem that needs solving.”
bill’s real target is the Israeli Arabs, Kremnitzer charged. He quoted a
statement made earlier Thursday by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose
party sponsored a far more sweeping bill.
Lieberman, said Kremnitzer, did
not refer to new citizens in the context of the proposed new pledge but to
Israeli Arab MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad).
“The idea is tell us all, ‘Look,
these citizens are not really loyal to Israel, because if they were forced to
make a pledge, they would refuse.’ The bill is meant to cast a shadow on the
loyalty of the Israeli Arabs.”
Bar-Ilan University professor and Israel
Democracy Institute deputy president Yedidya Stern said he had no problem with
the pledge of allegiance proposed by the government, but added that it was not
necessary and was being introduced for the wrong reasons.
raises no legal problems,” he said. “In other words, a state may decide that
whoever wants to become a citizen should be able to make a statement of loyalty.
Moreover, the state can define itself according to the
“We should be proud that this is the definition we chose
for ourselves. We have placed it in the top hierarchy of Israeli legislation. We
shouldn’t attack it. It is not against anybody.”
continued, precisely because of its importance, it should not be exploited for
“I think it’s too serious for that,” he continued.
“It’s too important to let people like Lieberman use it. It belongs to us. It’s
Stern warned that overusing the concept might harm
“We have to show ourselves and the world our self-confidence by
not pushing it,” he said. “[The fact that Israel is a Jewish and democratic
state] is known. We don’t hide it and we have nothing to hide.”
University’s Haim Gans warned that the government was humiliating the Israeli
Arab community by forcing new citizens to make the new pledge.
pledge, he said, would have practical consequences for the Israeli Arab
community, since Arabs from other countries, including the West Bank, who wish
to marry Israeli Arabs, will be unable to do so because they will be unwilling
to pledge loyalty to the “Jewish and democratic state.”
“In light of
Israel’s interpretation of its Jewish nature, which is hierarchical and
non-egalitarian, this proposal is another means for humiliating its Arab
citizens,” he charged.
Gans believes that the only just solution to the
Israeli- Palestinian conflict is the establishment of two states, one Jewish and
one Palestinian, while the Arab minority in Israel must be granted equal rights
in accordance with the special status of a native and historic people, exactly
like the Jews.
“When we humiliate the Arabs, as we do by this
legislation, we make them second- class citizens,” he continued.
telling them that they live here by charity, not by right. The bill is just
another expression of the same thing.”