The bad news from Israel is that the cabinet has approved an amendment to the Citizenship Law requiring non-Jews seeking citizenship to pledge allegiance to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state.” By backing the amendment, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was fulfilling a pledge to Avigdor Lieberman’s far-right Yisrael Beteinu party.
The good news is that Israeli politicians both outside and inside the current coalition government are denouncing the proposed amendment.
The irony is that by requiring only non-Jewish immigrants to make the pledge, the amendment is on its face undemocratic. And anyone who assumes that every Jewish immigrant to Israel is committed to a Jewish and democratic state is engaged in willful self-delusion.
In practice, the amendment would only cover a relative handful of people– mostly non-Israeli Arabs who seek citizenship after marrying Arabs who live in Israel. But implications for Israel as a democracy– as a state which pledged in its founding declaration to “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex”– are disturbing.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni of Kadima said: “It is essential that we maintain Israel’s status as a Jewish state with equal rights for all its citizens. This proposal contributes nothing to this goal. On the contrary, it will cause internal conflict and damage [Israel’s image in the world].”
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin– a Likudnik with conscience– said: “The students of Jabotinsky see no need for such bill. I am a fervent Zionist, and I need no strengthening of my belief. The establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel was an ethical act that the world recognized, and it gained great respect when we described our country as Jewish and democratic. This description is also anchored specifically in the Declaration of Independence and the Law on Elections, and any additions of this type can only be harmful.”
Labor MK Isaac Herzog, a cabinet member in the coalition, was especially sharp in his criticism:
Herzog told Haaretz late Saturday that the resounding support for such an amendment showed that “fascism was devouring the margins of society.”
“We are on a most dangerous slippery slope,” he warned.
Unsurprisingly Herzog’s remark has been picked up and trumpeted by some of Israel’s enemies. The difference between them and Herzog, of course, is that they are rooting for the State of Israel’s demise and eventual disappearance. Herzog’s anguish, by contrast, is born of his commitment to Israel’s founding democratic and Zionist principles, and to their survival.