Jacob Heilbrunn

Israel's Sinister Loyalty Oath

So who's calling the shots in Israel? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu already had to endure the ignominy of his racist foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman announcing at the United Nations that the current peace talks are a sham. Now Netanyahu is cravenly acquiescing to Lieberman's depraved demand that Israel institute a loyalty oath--one that forces prospective non-Jewish citizens to swear allegiance to a "Jewish and democratic state".

About twenty percent of Israel's population consists of Arabs. The demographic time bomb that Israel faces is simple. The fecundity rates of Israelis are far lower than those of Arabs and Palestinians. On Wednesday Netanyahu announced that he will back a bill on the loyalty oath. Lieberman and the nationalist party he leads, Yisrael Beitenu, are overjoyed.

It would be hard to think of a better way to stir up animosity among Israel's Arab minority, which is what Lieberman almost surely is aiming to accomplish. A domestic enemy in the midst of a nation is always the trump card of nationalists. It would also be hard to think of a better way to further tarnish Israel's reputation and aid the efforts of those who seek to portray it as an illegitimate state. Minorities Affairs minister Avishai Braverman correctly called it "infuriating and irresponsible." 

As Julian Kossoff observes,

This is wrong on so many levels. Just for starters, the Jews of Europe were hounded through history and their loyalty questioned because they could not, in good faith, swear allegiance to Christian monarchies and states. Next, it  corrupts all the principles of liberal democracy, tolerance and minority rights. The fact that it is aimed at anyone planning to become a citizen of Israel and does not include the 20 per cent of the citizenship who are Israeli Arabs is no reassurance. The legislation though practically ineffectual is meant as a show of legal force against Israeli Arabs - and drawn from a toxic draft that did demand all citizens swear the oath or become subjects. It sets a vile precedent.

Netanyahu's backing is supposed to be a payoff to Lieberman in exchange for a further halt on settlement activity in the West Bank. But the costs of this payoff are becoming exorbitant. The Obama administration, desperate to avoid a collapse of the talks, is promising the moon to Netanyahu to extract a measly sixty days halt of setttlement activity.

A self-confident Jewish state would not be miring itself in toxic discussions about a new loyalty oath. If Israel approves this oath, it will head down a sinister path, one that contravenes every principle that it was founded on.