Israel cannot be both a “Jewish state” and a democratic one
The Israeli Cabinet has agreed a Bill requiring new non-Jewish citizens to pledge an oath of allegiance to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state”. The Bill was opposed by Labour Ministers and even three Likud ministers. Isaac Herzog, the social affairs minister, told Israel’s army radio: “There is a whiff of fascism on the margins of Israeli society. The overall picture is very disturbing and threatens the democratic character of the state of Israel. There have been a tsunami of measures that limit rights … We will pay a heavy price for this.”
Even the speaker of the Knesset, Reuven Rivlin, also criticised the proposal. “This law will not assist us as a society and a state,” he said. “On the contrary, it could arm our enemies and opponents in the world in an effort to emphasise the trend for separatism or even racism within Israel.”
The Bill originates with ultra-right winger Avigdor Lierman, who campaigned in the last election for all existing Palestinian Israeli citizens to have to pledge a loyalty oath to Israel as a “state of the Jews” or “Jewish state”. His party,Yisrael Beiteinu’s policy is directed at transferring Palestinian Israelis out of Israel: an “exchange of land for people and people for land”.
As the Guardian points out the oath would not have to apply to Jewish citizens who are granted automatic citizenship under the “law of return”. So, they say, the proposal is “by definition discriminatory”. It is, of course, a pledge to an ideology, Zionism, the very thing which has reduced 20% of Israeli citizens to second class citizens.
The Guardian says: “It could be a state of Jews and all its citizens, but never a Jewish state.” In fact Zionism is vehemently opposed to Israel being “a state of all its citizens” precisely because this would bring the Zionist house of cards tumbling down. Israel cannot be both “Jewish and democratic” since by definition and in practice Palestinian Israeli’s are discriminated against in so many ways. They have neither the rights or resources that Jews have.
There are 20 similar Bills in process, which the Guardian lists as “a loyalty law for Knesset members and for film crews; there are bills that make it a criminal offence to deny the existence of Israel; that penalise the mourning of Nakba Day; that force any group financed by a foreign nation to report each contribution; and a bill to deny ethnic minorities’ access to Jewish settlements. The authors of these proposals not only intend to create a state ideology but to police it.”
Of course, they do not need to create a state ideology, it already exists. Such legislation is designed to reinforce it.
Labour minister Avishay Braverman described the loyalty oath as “a terrible mistake”. It was more than this, it was designed to place an obstacle in the path of the failing negotiations on “peace”. However, on one level it is a mistake because this decision will increase the isolation of the Israeli regime even further and make it more difficult for the friends of the “Jewish state” to defend it.
What happens to it in the Knesset remains to be seen. The political calculation in framing the Bill as applying to “future citizens” – it’s hard enough for any Palestinian from the West Bank to become a citizen even by marriage – was that since it will only effect individuals as they apply, it will not produce a political explosion which attempting to impose an oath on existing citizens surely would.
Of course, for all the criticism of some members of the government, the question arises are they prepared to remain in such a government if this Bill is pushed through?
At any rate this event reinforces the fact that insofar as Israel has any future (other than the endless war-footing on which it exists) it could only be as “a state of all its citizens”, one in which the same rights applied to all citizens regardless of religion, race, or national origins.