by Audrey Farber
A part of me wants to give at least a hesitant nod of acknowledgement to the less-extreme-right in the Knesset who recognize that there is something less-than-savory in Lieberman’s loyalty oath. In Lieberman-land, all naturalized citizens will swear loyalty to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. (Ah, the hypocrisy!)
As much as Netanyahu may be frustrating the hell out of those of us who – dare we say it – hope for better, he did at least make the effort to temper Lieberman’s firebrand uber-nationalism by proposing an alternative loyalty oath that invoked the equality for all citizens set forth in Israel’s declaration of independence. Netanyahu’s version would require naturalized citizens to swear allegiance to Israel as “the nation state of the Jewish people which grants full equality to all of its citizens.” But is there a tangible difference between a ‘Jewish and democratic state’ and a ‘nation state of the Jewish people [granting] full equality to all its citizens’? This sounds like the same thing to me. Something about birds of a feather or a leopard’s spots or…the animal metaphor alludes me. The hypocrisy persists.
So yesterday, Ehud Barak proposed yet a third alternative: “I declare that I will be a citizen loyal to the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, in the spirit of the declaration of independence, and I am committed to honoring the laws of the state.”
Despite his best efforts at shrouding it in Labor party liberalism, we read simply “blah blah blah Jewish and democratic state blah blah blah.” But wait – that’s what Lieberman, wants, isn’t it? And Netanyahu? Adding this business about the declaration of independence isn’t adding much of anything at all. Israel itself doesn’t abide by the “spirit of the declaration of independence”, so why should anyone else?
Besides, the first line of the relevant passage acknowledges the prominent role Jewish immigration plays, to the omission of others. But I don’t want to spoil it for you. Just read it. And then laugh at that last line there.
“THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will 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 will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. “
Rewording the same idea or adding criteria to the end to make it sound more liberal and all-inclusive doesn’t change the fact that this loyalty oath – in whatever form it takes – requires a pledge to a state that is inherently exclusive and self-superior. A state that, no matter how much it appears to try, either cannot or will not abide by its own principles and insists on creating a homogeneous, religiously and ethnically pure state. Sounds a lot like someone else we know.
Follow this trend into the future twenty years: Israel becomes a state filled only with those willing to pledge allegiance to a Jewish state. This is a state in which Jews are still the ruling majority and the socio-economically dominant class, in which their superiority is enshrined in law. This describes Israel today but with the critical difference that in future-Israel, being Jewish and being a part of a Jewish state can mean only one thing: whatever the ultra-right wants it to mean.
This will mean Jewish only by Lieberman et al.’s definition which, if we are to take the Conversion Bill as any indicator, means Jewish only at the Chief Rabbinate’s discretion. And then we have a sick combination of ultra-religious, ultra-ethnic-nationalism, a sort of Iran-Nazi Germany combination.
So much for diversity, dissent, and debate: those cornerstones on which democracy is built. As long as Israel is Jewish, who needs democracy?
[UPDATE: the New Israel Fund, whose own policy statement on Jewishness and democracy Audrey previously covered, spoke out against the loyalty oath to James Besser of the Jewish Week. Daniel Sokatch noted with dismay that most American Jewish organizations were officially silent on the issue.
Audrey Farber did her undergrad at UPenn majoring in – after much angst and indecision – Modern Middle East Studies. Her activism has involved resettling Somali, Iraqi, and Burmese refugees in Maine, researching forced migration issues in Amman, and rejecting the “path” by being a ski bum and bakery assistant at regular intervals. She is currently interning at Mada al-Carmel – Arab Center for Applied Social Research, in Haifa. Audrey wants to fix the world and is actively trying to do so through photos and writing in her blog(s). She appreciates your support. The views expressed herein are her own .