The government voted in favor of an amendment to the Citizenship Act Sunday, which will obligate new non-Jewish citizens of Israel to pledge allegiance to a "Jewish, democratic state".
Twenty-two voted in favor of the bill and eight opposed it, including all Labor ministers. Likud ministers Benny Begin, Dan Meridor, and Michael Eitan also voted against the bill.
Right-wing parties expressed their satisfaction with the approval. "The government decision that people who become citizens must declare their loyalty to the State of Israel as Jewish and democratic is an important message," said a spokesman for Yisrael Beiteinu.
National Union Knesset Member Michael Ben-Ari said following the vote, "Twenty years have passed since the assassination of Rabbi Kahane, and today Likud admits he was right. It's a refreshing change to see the Likud government, which persecuted the rabbi over his call to have Arabs sign a loyalty oath, admit today that what Kahane said 20 years ago was correct."
Labor Chairman Ehud Barak withdrew his non-conditional support for the amendment just moments before the government meeting on the matter, saying that he would only back it if a slight adjustment was made.
Barak had previously proposed that the amendment, in addition to defining Israel as Jewish and democratic, also add the words "in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence".
The Labor chairman explained that the addition "reflects Israel's open and liberal spirit" and "coincides with the basic values adopted by other countries in the world".
"This is not a minor change, but rather an essential one," Barak said. "Critics of the bill fear it embodies ulterior motives destined to be aimed against new citizens who are not Jewish, like Arabs, and that it will be used as a tool for the promotion of racism."
It was agreed that Barak's alteration would be transferred to a ministerial committee for approval and brought back for a vote in 2-3 weeks. Barak said that those who do not accept the values of the declaration "do not deserve to sit at the government table".
Earlier Justice Minister Yaakov Ne'eman, one of the ministers behind the bill, suggested that in order to avoid charges of racism the new oath would be taken by Jews as well as non-Jews. This suggestion is also to be debated by the committee.
The man who proposed the amendment, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, opened the Cabinet meeting Sunday by saying that "clearly this will not be the final word on loyalty and citizenship, but it's an important step".
Hadash Chairman MK Mohammad Barakeh inveighed against the bill. "This is not Lieberman, but rather the true Netanyahu. He has fired the opening shot of a mega-racist legislation," he said.
Barakeh also criticized Barak. "He is fully responsible for Israel's placement at the top of the list of the most racist regimes in the modern world. Siamese twins Barak and Netanyahu have fired another missile today at the negotiations," he added.
MK Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) accused the government of becoming a "stooge of Yisrael Beiteinu and its fascist policies".
"There is no other country in the world that forces its citizens to swear an oath to a sectarian ideology. Israel has proven it is not egalitarian but is rather democratic only towards Jews – and Jewish towards Arabs," he said.