A test of loyalty? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided Wednesday to ask his ministers to debate – and approve – an amendment to the Citizenship Act, mandating that all aspiring citizens would be required to pledge their allegiance not only to Israel, but to a "Jewish, democratic" Israel.
Netanyahu is in fact endorsing a similar amendment proposed by Justice Minister Yaakov Ne'eman and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
"Israel is the Jewish people's homeland," the prime minister explained. "It is so in its essence, in its government, its symbols, holidays and language, and that should be reflected by its Citizenship Act.
"Israel is a democratic country that affords full civil equality to all its citizens.This principle has always guided government policies, both domestic and foreign, and is a cornerstone of Israeli legislation.
"This principle is expressed in the term 'Jewish and democratic' and will be included in the pledge of allegiance taken by those wishing to become citizens."
The Prime Minister's Office said the matter should have no bearing on the peace talks with the Palestinians, since Israel's first prerequisite in the negotiations is for recognition as the Jewish state.
But senior ministers say Netanyahu's timing hints that he is trying to keep Lieberman happy while debating another freeze in settlement construction, to which the foreign minister is opposed.
More harm than good?
Minister of Minority Affairs Avishay Braverman slammed the proposal: "This is an infuriating, irresponsible decision which will only fuel the fires of delegitimization against Israel worldwide."This decision will bear no benefits for Israel. All it does is sent a negative message to Arab citizens," he said.
Yisrael Beiteinu welcomed Netanyahu's decision, saying it will fulfill a promise made to it in its coalition agreement.
"Every citizen is obligated to preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and all the more so when one aspires to become an Israeli citizen. This is a vital, basic need, especially when there are those who wish to undermine it."
Former Jewish Agency Chairman MK Zeev Bielski (Kadima), said that Netanyahu's decision is "insulting, harmful, and insufficient to cement Israel's status as a Jewish democratic state." Bielski added that the amendment "will cause more harm than good, and stems from the need to please radical coalitional elements."
Meretz Chairman MK Haim Oron slammed the proposed amendment, saying "it seems the Citizenship Act was drafted in Lieberman's image. The act portrays a xenophobic, anxious, anti-civilian Israel.
"It is a shame that the government ignores our tragic history as Jews, and even discusses the issue," he said.
MK Arieh Eldad (National Union) offered Netanyahu his congratulations "On understanding that we have to demand from ourselves the same thing we demand of the Palestinians and the world.
"I can only hope that Netanyahu isn’t scattering crumbs meant to boost Israel's national pride because he is preparing to bulldoze settlements in Judea and Samaria, and cut down entire parts of Israeli society on his way to forming a Palestinian state in the West Bank."
MK Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) commented on Netanyahu's announcement, saying that the premier's decision "to force citizens to pledge allegiance to a Jewish Israel is a political decision rather that one of leadership".
"It is meant to cement the Arabs' inferior class status by law. No amendment will be able to negate the Palestinian narrative, which has been recognized worldwide."
Hadash Chairman Mohammad Barakeh said, "Netanyahu has decided to singlehandedly open racist legislation season. The amendment is racist, and it will likely get the majority it needs via the two 'best men' – Lieberman and Barak.
"We've long been saying that the Israeli law has become the guide to the world's most sinister regimes."
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel said that the proposal was "fundamentally undemocratic, and discriminates between would-be citizens on the basis of religion and demands an ethnic minority to commit to a principle which anchors the discrimination against it."
'Beware the snowball effect'
Arab civilians were irked by the decision, warning of a dangerous snowball effect: "It's time that the government says what it thinks of us Arabs – are we equal citizens or bad ones?" said Nazareth resident Maison Jaraisi.
Jaraisi, a nurse, claimed Israeli law was racist in nature. "Unfortunately, we are already accustomed to discriminatory legislation. I always read about the solidarity on the Israeli street toward refugees from Darfur, and I call on the same people – we need you today in order to build a mutual future that is healthier than the one the government has in the works," she said.
Umm al-Fahm resident Abed al-Latif also criticized the act, which he described as "dumb," and said it will create "a rift between the state and its Arab citizens."
Al-Latif added that "loyalty is not guaranteed by law, but by conduct. The Arabs have proven their loyalty to their Israeli citizenship throughout the years, and want to be part of Israeli politics and economy. This law will push us aside," he lamented.
Roni Sofer and Sharon Roffe-Ofircontributed to this report
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