Editorial: A legitimate pledge

There are those who would claim that there is an inherent contradiction between “Jewish” and “democratic.”

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 “democratic.”
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.”
MK 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.
We believe, however, that there is no inherent contradiction between the two.
Israel 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 majority.
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 culture.
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.