Loyalty oath bill ‘provokes Arab citizens’

By Anshel Pfeffer, July 22, 2010

The Israeli cabinet is split over a demand to make all new citizens pledge allegiance to the "Jewish and democratic" character of the state of Israel.

There is no formal pledge of allegiance today in Israeli law. Native-born Israelis do not have to make any kind of commitment as a condition for citizenship and neither do immigrants of Jewish descent who become Israeli by the Law of Return.

The only new citizens who have to make any kind of formal statement are temporary residents who upgrade their status to full citizenship. They must state that "I will be a loyal citizen to the state of Israel".

At least two parties, Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas, are in favour of having an Israeli pledge of allegiance. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's party included it as a major plank in their manifesto with the intention of forcing Israeli Arabs to commit themselves to be loyal to the Jewish state or relinquish their citizenship. But the party's proposal encountered fierce opposition within the government.

On Monday, a watered-down version was presented to the cabinet. According to the proposal - which is supported by Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who is responsible for citizenship issue - residents married to Israeli citizens, who are applying for citizenship, will have to pledge to be "loyal citizens to the state of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and respect its laws".

The official explanation for the amendment is that some use Israeli citizenship "to harm the state".

The proposal has been attacked by Arab citizen rights movements since it is aimed mainly at Palestinians married to Israelis. They claim that the proposal is the thin edge of the wedge, leading to disenfranchisement of Israel's Arab community.

On Monday, the cabinet was set to approve the proposal for vote in the Knesset plenum but a group of Labour and Likud ministers managed to delay the debate. Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, who led the opposition in cabinet, said the proposal was an "unnecessary provocation of the Arab community".

Last updated: 3:49pm, July 22 2010