Netanyahu changes loyalty pledge after backlash

By Anshel Pfeffer, October 21, 2010

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to alter the "loyalty pledge" law voted on last week by the cabinet so that it will include not only non-Jews but any new Israeli citizen.

The original law proposal requiring new citizens to pledge their allegiance to Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state" applied only to those becoming Israeli under the Citizenship Law, and not to Jews who are entitled to citizenship under the Law of Return.

The fierce opposition to the law within Israel and the international backlash seem to have caused the prime minister to announce the change. His advisers hope the move will minimise the claims that the law is racist.

One source in the Prime Minister's Office said this week that it was Mr Netanyahu's intention all along to have the law apply to all new citizens, regardless of their religion.

It is unclear though whether the amendment will appease the law's critics. Israeli-Arab politicians responded to the development saying that they are opposed to any kind of identity being imposed on new citizens, Jewish or not, and the law in its altered form may also encounter opposition from the strictly Orthodox parties which are expected to protest against any attempt to make them pledge allegiance to a secular state.

Meanwhile, the largest demonstration against the new law took place on Saturday night in Tel Aviv with an estimated 6000 people, Jews and Arabs, marching, according to one banner, "Together against the laws of racism."

The march was organised by the left-wing parties and organisations. Meretz chairman, MK Hayim Oron, said to the marchers that "the barrage of anti-civilian and anti-democractic legislation is designed to push the Arab population out of the democratic game and perpetuate a right-wing, ethnocratic regime".

A number of international Jewish organisations have also voiced their opposition to the law, including the Central Conference for American Rabbis, the largest movement of Reform rabbis, and the World Union for Progressive Judaism.

Last updated: 4:32pm, May 31 2011