Loyalty Bill to include Jews, says Netanyahu


ISRAELI PRIME minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered a change to the controversial Citizenship Bill so that Jews as well as non-Jews will now have to swear allegiance to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state”.

Last week, ministers approved an amendment to the Citizenship Act requiring all non-Jews seeking to become Israeli citizens to swear the oath of allegiance. The measure mainly affected Palestinians seeking to marry Israeli Arabs, and foreign workers. The amendment did not initially apply to Jews, who have an automatic right to settle in Israel and seek citizenship.

The proposal, which still has to be approved by the Knesset parliament, was strongly condemned as racist and discriminatory. Six thousand people, Jews and Arabs, rallied in Tel Aviv over the weekend to protest against the Bill. This week, British filmmaker Mike Leigh cancelled a visit to Israel in protest against the amendment.

Labour party ministers and three ministers from the prime minister’s Likud party voted against the amendment. Some opponents of the Bill argued that by singling out non-Jews, the measure was clearly discriminatory. Others maintained it would not make it any more palatable for Israel’s Arab minority – forced to swear allegiance to a Jewish state – whether Jews were required to take the same oath.

Officials in the prime minister’s office denied that Mr Netanyahu had done a U-turn or backed off under domestic and international criticism, noting he had suggested during last week’s ministerial discussion it may be better if Jews were required to swear allegiance.

His decision to include all would-be citizens, regardless of nationality or religion, will undoubtedly undermine some domestic opposition to the measure and make it easier for the bill to pass through the Knesset. Opposition remains strong, however.

Israeli Arab Knesset member Jamal Zahalka said yesterday the law remains racist because it demands that Palestinians “debase themselves by swearing allegiance to the Jewish state”.

Avishai Braverman, one of the five Labour party ministers who voted against the initial amendment, said the new change will make no difference. “The amendment requiring Jews 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,” he said. Knesset members yesterday convened to discuss the bill and what some termed the “threat to Israeli democracy” inherent in the measure.

Some speakers noted that hardline foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party had been the prime instigators of the legislation. Shlomo Molla, a Knesset member from the opposition centrist Kadima party said: “Israel is thriving, but the introduction of these anti-democratic laws must end. We came here to say: ‘Stop Lieberman’s fascism’.”

Israeli Arab parliamentarian Hanin Zoabi said Mr Lieberman set the tone and the rest of the government ran after him.