(photo credit: Courtesy)
If all goes as expected, the cabinet on Sunday will approve an amendment to the
Citizenship and Entry Law that emphasizes Israel’s status as both “Jewish” and
If passed into law, naturalizing citizens who are not Jewish, such
as West Bank Palestinians who marry Arab Israelis and apply for Israeli
citizenship, will be obligated to pledge allegiance to the State of Israel as a
“Jewish and democratic state.”
Presently one need only pledge an oath of
loyalty to “the State of Israel.”
There are those who would claim that
there is an inherent contradiction between “Jewish” and “democratic.”
Ahmad Tibi (Ra’am-Ta’al), for instance, says the amendment would anchor in law
Arab citizens’ subordinate status in Israel.
A state cannot be both
Jewish and democratic at the same time, he claims. Democratic values, Tibi and
other post or anti-Zionists argue, dictate the creation of a state “for all its
citizens” without any special treatment for one particular group. The Jewish
Agency, the Law of Return and national symbols such as Hatikva must be scrapped
to make room for a truly democratic state that gives equal expression to all
disparate cultures, religions and national identities.
however, that there is no inherent contradiction between the two.
was created by Jews for Jews in the wake of the Holocaust – which was the
concrete example of the terrible consequences of Jews’ lack of sovereignty. The
modern sovereign state is the culmination of millennia of Jewish yearning and
exile. The Jewish people are connected by a common religion, culture, history
and national identity.
Like other peoples, including the Palestinians and
the nearly two dozen Arab countries, Jews have the right to self-determination
in their own sovereign state that protects its unique national attributes.
That’s why Palestinians, who one day, with Israeli support, will have their own
sovereign state, will have to drop their demand for the “right of return” for
Arab refugees who chose or were forced to leave Israel during the 1948 War of
Independence. If this right of return were implemented, it would mean the demise
of Israel as a Jewish state by destroying the present Jewish
THE ROLE of democracy, meanwhile, is to ensure that while the
Jewish people’s political sovereignty is actualized, non-Jewish or non-Zionist
minorities’ rights, such as freedom of speech and press, freedom of religion and
even the right to political representation, which MK Tibi and other Arab MKs
enjoy, are carefully protected.
While Jews’ multiple identities as a
religious group, a nation, an ethnic group, and their connection of nationhood
with a particular territory set them apart from other peoples, their demand for
political autonomy is not exceptional. Greece, Armenia and Ireland all have
repatriation laws that provide their respective peoples with special rights. In
Germany, thanks to Article 116 of the Basic Law, hundreds of thousands of
refugees of ethnic German origin or who simply belong to the German culture have
been granted the right to automatic citizenship.
The goal of these laws
is to maintain these states’ unique national identities. In fact, it is
difficult to imagine a nation-state without a single dominant
What else unifies human beings, provides them with identity and
purpose, gives them a sense of belonging? How else can they better give
expression to universalistic values such as the fight against world poverty if
not through the particularistic framework of the nationstate?
The US comes close
to being a nation without a single dominant culture. But even there, prospective
citizens are expected to make a pledge of allegiance. As part of the
naturalization process they are requested to “renounce and abjure all allegiance
and fidelity to any foreign” entity and “support and defend the Constitution and
laws of the US against all enemies.”
Demanding from naturalizing citizens
a loyalty oath to a “Jewish and democratic state” is a modest step that is part
of a larger campaign to secure recognition for Israel as the national homeland
of the Jewish people. It is not so much for the prospective citizen – sincerity
cannot be coerced – as it is a declaration of purpose by Jews who have returned
to their historic homeland.