Loathing the oath

Loathing the oath

The Knesset is discussing the creation of a loyalty oath for new immigrants, which we imagine would go something like this:

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the Jewish State of Israel. And to the parliamentary democracy, for which it stands, a divided nation, under God, with liberty and justice for Jews but not goyim.”

OK, maybe that’s not exactly how it would go, but that’s how it would be viewed by many of Israel’s non-Jewish citizens and future non-Jewish immigrants. (See page 24.)

As a Jewish democratic state, Israel has straddled a fine line for more than 60 years. It guarantees rights and freedom to all of its citizens, yet calls itself a Jewish nation. Nevertheless, the Arab minority argues that it is often overlooked in favor of the Jewish majority for state funding and development.

We believe in Israel as a Jewish state and the national homeland of the Jewish people. Yet we as Jews know the danger of a state’s marginalizing a segment of its population, and this loyalty oath would further do that. (And even within Israel’s Jewish community there are those, like the haredim, who do not accept Israel as a state, Jewish or otherwise.)

It is also absurd to expect the oath to be honored or meaningful. Oaths do not have the power they once had. They are taken expediently and soon forgotten. In February 2009, after Avigdor Lieberman – now Israel’s foreign minister – proposed such an oath, we wrote that it was “an indefensible idea. It protects no one. Nothing recommends it. Should it be implemented, it would do no good and would clearly, swiftly, do harm.”

This new loyalty oath, if signed into law, is destined to do harm. Coming at a time when the peace talks keep teetering, it may well bolster Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s clout within his coalition and therefore his ability to negotiate on Israel’s behalf. But it also undercuts the country’s foundation and reputation as a democracy.

If it becomes law, we will hear, once again, from every side, the canard that Zionism is racism. We must remember that while Israel is the Jewish homeland, it is also home to non-Jews.

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