Recent Israeli trends requiring Israeli citizens to take the oath of allegiance suggest the rise of extremist right-wing and religious currents in Israel. It suggests also the growing spirit of racism against the Arabs living in Israel in addition to the attempts to increase pressure on them. Moreover, these trends are a prelude for a political law which would link the solution of the Palestinian issue to the future of the Israeli citizens who are originally Palestinians of 1948.
Since the Palestinians of 1948 consider that their presence in their country predates the establishment of the Israeli state, and because this declaration of allegiance clashes with their religious and national affiliation, they would persistently refuse to pledge loyalty to the state of Israel. This conflict between the stands and considerations of the Israeli state and those of the indigenous people opens the way for different consequences. These would lead Israel to further tighten the noose on the Palestinians of 1948 and process the conditions necessary to start a policy of displacement. However, this would expose Israel to more international isolation.
Netanyahu’s government approved a set of new commands relevant to entering Israel and immigration. The government contends that the motivation that urged it to pass these commands was the problem of illegal entry into the country. Based on these commands that would soon turn into laws in case they passed three consecutive readings in the Knesset, applicants for Israeli citizenship would not be only required to express their loyalty to the country according to the common text: “I declare that I will be a loyal citizen to the state of Israel” but they would also have to add “as a Jewish and democratic state.” These commands were put forward by a number of ministers backed by their parties and extremist, right-wing parliamentary blocs particularly Yisrael Beitenu (Israel our Home) headed by Lieberman. This party in particular seeks to impose a number of laws on the Palestinians in Israel to restrict their freedom and movement.
It is clear that the issue of loyalty is not as much related to illegal entry as to the issue which haunts the right-wing Israelis, namely the demographic motive. Statistics show that the number of Palestinians is increasing to constitute around 50% of the entire population within historic Palestine where this demographic risk has future repercussions on Israel as a Jewish state.
Whoever revises the suggestions on this issue would realize that getting the Israeli citizenship is not only conditional on loyalty to Israel as a mere state but as a “Jewish and democratic state.” The proponents of this project claim that it is “similar to allegiance oaths known in many countries and consistent with the spirit and content of the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel.”
A close scrutiny of this claim shows the following: in the developed and enlightened countries, and even in some developing countries, those applying for citizenship are not required to pledge loyalty to a religion or a specific ideology but to the constitution, democratic norms and the specific laws of every country. For example, the pledge of allegiance in the USA is made for the Constitution and defending it. Similarly, allegiance in Norway, Belgium, Singapore and Brazil is for laws and human rights.
Even in developing countries where there are national or religious minorities, the oath of allegiance rests on impartial basis and the focus is on loyalty to the state. Taking India as an example, the oath of allegiance is to the constitution and civil obligations. The same applies to China where allegiance is for the state and not to Buddhism or the ruling Communist Party.
Nor does the US or India or any other state require allegiance for Christian or Hindu faith. For this reason, it is difficult to accept that the oath of allegiance “for a Jewish state is normal and in effect in many countries” as the Israeli government has claimed in the course of debating these laws together with other racist commands targeting Arabs. This means that proponents of these laws are in fact disguising realities in most countries, including developing countries, to justify their racism.
The oath of allegiance proposal seems strange in our contemporary world and we have tried to demonstrate this as a prelude for understanding the law and its implications. Moreover, we should be aware that laws are meant to challenge and face issues and problems that need a solution.
What we notice here is that these commands that would be passed later as laws were issued for political rather than legal or social aim or for facilitating the lives of people. Instead of organizing the relation between the state and the Arab minority and dealing with them as citizens, the Israeli government has, in one way or another, declared that it is against them and would fight them in case they did not respond to its laws, including the law of allegiance. This means that Israel has declared a war against its own citizens!
As we are talking about the motivations for these commands, we realize that the government, including the prime minister and a large number of particularly right-wing ministers, question the loyalty of the Arab citizens 62 years after the establishment of the Israeli state although these Arab citizens still live in Israel.
The other claim that the oath of allegiance is consistent with the “Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel” is totally faulty based on what we understand from the document itself (This doesn’t mean that we accept the declaration or agree that it is an entirely democratic document). The document mentions that Israel would “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex, it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.” It further states that Arab Israelis are entitled to “full and equal citizenship and due representation in all provisional and permanent institutions.” This side, however, is not demonstrated in the oath of allegiance proposed in the new law.
Significance and Repercussions
1. The pursuit of this trend will lead to the isolation of Israel and demonstrate its violation of the values and norms known across the world.
2. Declaring loyalty to a Jewish state as a precondition for getting citizenship does not allow equality in social and political rights regardless of difference in religion. Further, it does not grant full and equal citizenship to the residents of Israel other than the Jews since the children of non-Jewish families would be required to take the oath of allegiance to Judaism -which is not their religion- and not for the state or its institutions and laws.
3. Dedicating discrimination against Arab citizens in Israel and framing this discrimination within the state laws.
4. Escalation of tension and conflict between the Jewish majority and national Arab minority in Israel.
5. Excluding Arab national minority in Israel from full and effective participation in social and political life.
6. Causing serious harm to the foundations of the democratic regime in Israel. On one hand, it requires an oath of allegiance for religion or for the ideology or specific nationalism in order to get essential citizenship rights. This requirement does not respect the principles of the democratic regimes founded on pluralism and freedom of religion, worship and thought. On another hand, this step undermines democracy in Israel (according to the claims of the fathers of Zionism and the founders of the state) and does not guarantee its existence as a Jewish state.
7. Allegations by legists that the Jewish identity of Israel is founded and guaranteed in previous laws which have been determined by the state institutions and holidays in addition to a number of laws related to the right of return of Diaspora Jews and the slogans of the state which confirm its Jewish identity. Thus, highlighting this issue in this stage does not aim at finding legal solutions but rather stems from racist ideological and political backgrounds.
8. The Israeli government knows fully that Arab citizens living in Israel would not be ready to sign such an oath of allegiance as the “Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel” clearly shows the policies of neglecting Arab minority and discrimination against them. With the Palestinian issue still unsettled, the Israeli government has implicitly linked its will to impose the Jewish identity of the state and its attitude towards its Arab citizens on one hand to the solution of the Palestinian issue on the other hand.
9. Questioning the issue of loyalty of Arab citizens in Israel towards the state, in this phase particularly, is a purely political issue. In addition, it is a basis for a range of deliberate issues (or political maneuvers) that will definitely lead to widening the rift between Israel as a state and its Arab citizens while leading to enhancing tension in the Arab street in Israel.
10. Approving the law will lead to imposing sanctions on a large segment of Arab citizens in Israel including depriving these segments of citizenship which will lead to proposing transfer as an alternative. It is worth of mention here that every Monday and Thursday, Lieberman presents projects for population and territory exchange as one of the steps in the current negotiations with the Palestinian side.
11. One of the repercussions of the oath of allegiance might appear within the Israeli community itself, as the issue of the Jewish identity of Israel has not yet been determined and it remains a controversial issue among different Israeli currents. Thus, we see that the issue bears, both in form and content, religious and national aims and expressions in addition to some features of democracy. Based on democratic norms, it is not possible to impose the pledge of allegiance to a Jewish and democratic state on a religious Jew (hardliner for example) who does not accept Zionism as a current within Judaism or does not believe in democracy because religion is the basis of his life. So why do we raise this topic? Because the Israeli government defines the foundation of Israel as one of the accomplishments of the Zionist project, thus the meaning of “Jewish identity” for the government and secular parties is Zionist with democracy added as a western concept rejected by ultra-Orthodox religious Jews (taking into consideration that they pursue democracy as a way for the Knesset to achieve gains particularly extorting money and public jobs).
12. The declaration that Israel is a Jewish state is founded on religious bases. This leads to the accumulation of difficulties and obstacles for non-Jews when they have to take the allegiance oath.
13. Many legal academics and politicians see that these laws (all laws which restrict the movement and status of Arabs in Israel) would not show Israel as a respectable state and would increase its isolation while further driving away the supporters of the Jewish people.
14. The Netanyahu government, and Netanyahu personally, asked the Palestinian Authority to acknowledge the Jewish identity of Israel as a condition for the continuation of negotiations between the two parties, the Israeli and the Palestinian. A closer look at this demand makes us realize that the Jewish identity of Israel depends on the Palestinian recognition of it. This is a point for the Palestinians to cling to, i.e., they have to affirm that they do not recognize the Israeli demand rather than declaring it as a non-Palestinian affair, as put forward by the Palestinian leadership.
15. It is obvious that introducing the law of oath of allegiance will lead to the division of the Israeli society; not only Arabs would be accused of disloyalty but also the Orthodox religious Israelis and these together form around one third of the entire population. This ratio is not negligible and will thus lead to tension in the relations between the government as an administrative and regulatory side on one hand and the opponents of this and other discriminatory laws, on the other hand.
16. If this law wins the confidence of the parliament and its approval, this would prove that the government and the Knesset in addition to large segments of the people in Israel head towards the establishment of an ethno-racial state. This state will prosecute its citizens for refusing to take an oath of allegiance which they do not accept because they belong to another ethnicity and because till now they have not accepted Israel as a Jewish state. Their majority—the Arab Palestinians in Israel—tend to cling to the principles of democracy as inclusive of all citizens, i.e., considering that the state is for all its citizens and not only for one party against the other. This is unacceptable for Israel for fear of losing demographic majority.
17. The Arabs in Israel refuse the oath of allegiance as a condition for getting citizenship since they were in Palestine even before the establishment of Israel. In other words, Israel came to them; they did not go to it. Thus, they consider this oath as contradictory to the normal situation and as a command which strips them of their rights as citizens, regardless of the unequal treatment they have received from consecutive Israeli governments.
It seems that this law came in the context of the peace settlement between Israel and the PLO. Thus, Netanyahu’s government is trying to link the future of the Jewish identity of the state to its stand towards the Palestinians of 1948 and the solution of the Palestinian issue. Based on the aforementioned, the implications of this decision are expected to head towards one of three scenarios:
1. Increase of Tension and Restrictions on the Palestinians of 1948
This scenario is based on the system of racist laws and procedures imposed by the consecutive Israeli governments on the Palestinians of 1948. This scenario is reinforced by the statistics which show that in the near future the Palestinian population will be equal to the Jewish population within historic Palestine. This possibility is likely because of the pressure imposed by the Israeli government on the Palestinians and the increasing popularity of the right-wing and religious extremists among Jews in addition to the continuous encroachment of Jewish settlers on the property and sanctities of the indigenous people.
2. Starting a Policy of Displacement
What opens the door for this possibility is the refusal of the Palestinians of 1948, Muslims and Christians alike, for taking the oath of allegiance as it becomes possible for the Israeli government to pursue a series of punitive measures. These measures include, but not limited to, withdrawal of Israeli citizenship, refusal to give the citizenship to children and newborns besides the exclusion from public life and public institutions. This possibility is enhanced by the increase of racist feelings among the Israelis and the pursuit of Israeli right-wing forces, such as Yisrael Beitenu (Israel our Home), of the adoption of population and territory exchange in the context of peace settlement with the Palestinians.
3. Exposing Israel to International Isolation
There is no doubt that the law of allegiance and the procedures that accompany it would characterize the political system in Israel with a set of values and customs different from those known in free countries. This would participate to increasing accusations against Israel as a threat to international peace and security and a successor to the former apartheid regime in South Africa.
The meeting of four factors together enhances the odds of transforming this scenario into a reality:
a. Failing to reach a final peace settlement and to establish a Palestinian state.
b. The steadfastness of the Palestinians of 1948 in their land despite the increasing racist Israeli practices against them.
c. The increasing official and public awareness of the Israeli practices and the demands that Israel must not remain above the law, while demanding that the US stops its protection and support for Israel.
d. The moral and legal embarrassment of the proponents of Israel makes them reluctant or unwilling to defend this “state” or its policies which are absolutely contrary to international legitimacy and the Bill of Human Rights.
1. The Palestinian leadership should refuse the recognition of the Jewish identity of Israel as being contrary to the principles of international law and the bases of contemporary modern state.
2. Supporting the right of the Palestinians of 1948 to all rights of citizenship.
3. The Palestinian leadership should refuse any population exchange with Israel.
4. All laws and racist acts of Israel should be collected and presented via global fora and competent international institutions to uncover Israel before the western and international public opinion while considering Israel an “apartheid state” and working to isolate it internationally.
Al-Zaytouna Centre thanks Dr. Johnny Mansour for authoring the original text on which this Strategic Assessment was based.
The Arabic version of this Assessment was published on 3/12/2010