Israel’s loyalty oath: What’s the controversy and why is it wrong?
The “loyalty oath” approved this week by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s cabinet has quickly – and for good reason – become extremely controversial. Most western and liberal states require those seeking citizenship to take an oath of loyalty upon becoming naturalized citizens. Israel already has a loyalty oath on the books that one must take when naturalizing. So what’s the big deal?
The United States requires that naturalized citizens declare [by oath] to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” It further requires them to pledge to bear arms and serve in the armed forces if required by law.
The United Kingdom requires new citizens to swear their “allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth,” to “respect its rights and freedoms,” to “uphold its democratic values,” and to fulfill their “duties and obligations as a British citizen.”
Similarly, those becoming naturalized citizens of Canda must also swear their allegiance to Queen Elizabeth as well as, to “Her Heirs and Successors.” The fruit of the pledge is to “faithfully observe the laws of Canada” and to fulfill their “duties as a Canadian citizen.”
Becoming a German citizen requires taking an oath on the German constitution.
Those naturalizing in the Netherlands are required to swear that they “respect the constitutional order of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, its freedoms and rights,” and must “swear to faithfully fulfil (sic) the obligations” of their new nationality.
Israeli law currently requires that anyone becoming a naturalized citizen declare they “will be a loyal citizen of the State of Israel.” The new proposal would tack on “as a Jewish and democratic state” to the current declaration.
So if all of the above-mentioned western and democratic states require that new citizens take such broad oaths of loyalty, what’s the difference? The theme of all these oaths is to defend, respect or uphold the constitution or laws of the state. Israel’s is the only one that does not require such an oath.
Netanyahu noted that Israel is the national state of the Jewish people, that this “principle guides government policy” and “is a foundation of Israeli law.” He is correct. The phrase “Jewish state” appears five times in the Israeli declaration of independence. In fact, it is a central theme to the document. In Israel’s basic laws (its quasi constitution), this principle is clearly stated.
In the third Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty’s stated purpose is to establish “in a Basic Law the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” The second Basic Law: Knesset, clearly defines “the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people,” and affirms the “democratic character of the State.”
The main difference between your average oath of citizenship and the newly proposed Israeli oath is that while most countries are satisfied with requiring their newest citizens to pledge loyalty to their laws and constitution, Israel wants to its naturalized citizens to pledge their loyalty only to two points in the heavy, large volumes of Israeli law. Why is it not enough to pledge loyalty to “the basic laws of Israel and the spirit of its Declaration of Independence” if “Jewish and democratic” are already found within those documents?
Another major problem with the proposed loyalty oath is that it would only be required of “naturalized citizens.” To most people around the world, this would not seem strange at all. However, those familiar with Israel should realize that the new requirement excludes those who fall under the Law of Return – no Jew would ever have to take the oath.
Why are Jewish immigrants to Israel not required to take any loyalty oath? I won’t get into it, but draw your own conclusions.
More importantly, however, is the first question: Why does the government want naturalized citizens to take an oath affirming one part of Israel’s law when declaring loyalty to all of Israel’s laws would inherently include these principles? In response to this question, Netanyahu recently said, “What we ask of Palestinians we must ask of any other citizen of the country.” So is this just an attempt to justify Netanyahu’s insecure demand that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as a “Jewish state?”
There is nothing inherently wrong about requiring naturalized citizens to take an oath of loyalty to their new state. What is wrong is to require only one type of immigrant to take the oath. What is wrong an attempt to score political points by making the oath reflective of only certain values enmeshed in a state’s laws and constitution instead of all of them. Netanyahu’s government is merely fueling nationalist sentiments over a non-issue. The only people who would have to take this proposed oath are Palestinians obtaining Israeli citizenship through family reunification – Palestinians married to Israeli citizens. However, the Knesset has for the past seven years, renewed a temporary ban on family reunification for Palestinians, a law that the Supreme Court has called a breach of fundamental human rights. In other words, no one will ever take this controversial oath.