Netanyahu orders change to loyalty oath
Prime minister heeds furor caused by Citizenship Act amendment demanding aspiring citizens pledge allegiance to 'Jewish, democratic Israel'; instructs justice minister to change new law to include Jewish Law of Return applicants. Arab MKs say redrafting changes nothing
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered Justice Minister Yaakov Ne'eman to redraft his proposed amendment to the Citizenship Act so that the loyalty oath suggested in it will apply to Jews seeking Israeli citizenship under Law of Return guidelines, as well.
The original amendment, which stated that those seeking Israeli citizenship would be required to pledge their allegiance to a "Jewish and democratic Israel" instead of simply to the State of Israel, caused a political and public uproar and was slammed as discriminatory and racist.
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"We expect anyone wishing to become an Israeli citizen to recognize Israel as the Jewish nation state and a democratic state. There is a broad consensus within the Israeli public as to the Jewish and democratic nature of the country, and this is not by happenstance," Netanyahu said Monday.
"The State of Israel was not established as 'just another state' – it was founded as the sovereign state of the Jewish people in their historic homeland; and as a democratic nation, whose citizens, Jews and non-Jews, enjoy full civil equality."
Minister of Minority Affairs Avishay Braverman said that the change ordered by Netanyahu will do little to minimize the damage caused by the law, should it be approved.
"The amendment requiring Jews who return to Israel to pledge their allegiance to a Jewish and democratic state will not remedy the damage to Israel's international image, and will not repair the damage to Jewish-Arab relations."
'Change changes nothing'
Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) said Monday that Netanyahu's instruction meant nothing since the bill was a "bad idea to begin with."
"It has no place in this or Lieberman's version (of the bill), as there is no reason to compete with his fascism. Forcing an identity on Arabs and Jews alike is completely redundant," he said.
Balad Chairman Jamal Zahalka added that the proposed change "changes nothing." The law, he said, "Remains racist because it demands Palestinians debased themselves by pledging allegiance to the Jewish state."Obviously, most Jews would have no problem taking the oath, but if another country ever forced Jews to pledge allegiance to Christian or Muslim ideology, they would be accused of being anti-Semitic."
Zahalka urged the prime minister to rescind the amendment altogether.
Deputy Health Minister Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) also criticized the decision, saying that "instead of the prime minister focusing on the real issues, such as the housing plight, he's focusing on nonsense. This pledge carries no benefits to the state or its citizens. I oppose it and I hope it fails to find a majority," he said.
'Bibi should act like a leader'
MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima) slammed Netanyahu for "zigzagging," saying that "It is high time that Netanyahu starts acting like a leader and stops plodding along Lieberman's demagogy."
Kadima fellow MK Yohanan Plesner suggested that "Netanyahu take a moment before caving to his religious coalition partners, who are likely to oppose applying the law to Jews. He would be wise to pull this stupid amendment altogether, thus minimizing the great damage already caused to Israel's reputation by this redundant law."
Various senior legalists addressed the amendment since its publication, and while the consensus was that there was nothing legally wrong with the proposed bill, many agreed the wording was problematic.
Professor Yedidya Stern of the Center for Democratic Studies, who also serves as president of the Israeli Democratic Institute, explained that while Israel was well within its right in demanding naturalized citizens pledge their allegiance to the state, "If we wish to prevent racism, this should be applies to everyone seeking citizenship, including Jews."
The redrafting ordered by the prime minister coincides with a proposal to the effect made by Ne'eman himself.
Sharon Roffe-Ofir and Roni Sofer contributed to this report
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