Monday, July 26, 2010

Declaring Loyalty to One's New Country

It's summer, nothing is happening anywhere in the world, the boredom is killing us and we've got to find something to talk about. Israel's government has decided it might be great to discuss a new loyalty oath for new citizens. To be clear: the oath under discussion will never play any role in the lives of existing Israelis, whether they be Jews, Arabs, Russian non-Jews, Portuguese Catholic priests* or anyone else. Nor will it effect future Israelis born into that status. The oath under discussion will be recited by people who are opting to become Israelis, as an expression of free choice. Many of them will be Palestinians marrying Israeli Arabs, or Palestinians in East Jerusalem wishing to ensure that no future peace agreement separates them from Israeli social benefits and health care.

According to Haaretz, members of the cabinet can't agree on what should or shouldn't be in the oath; even members of one party in the cabinet, Likud, can't agree among themselves.

Shlomo Avineri notes that lots of democratic states have such oaths on the way to gaining citizenship: Norway, Britain, Australia, the US. A respectable club to be in. However, he suggests using intelligent language, rather than a blunt formulation:

The question that remains is whether the expression "Jewish and democratic state" is the right formula. Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor felt that this language is an unnecessary provocation of Israel's Arab citizens, and he is right. In "A Strategy for Immigration Policy to Israel," a position paper issued by The Metzilah Center that I authored with Amnon Rubinstein, Ruth Gavison and Liav Orgad, we proposed a formula that requires acceptance of "the legitimacy of the State of Israel," since that is precisely what Israel's enemies wish to deny it.

What's more, anyone who opposes such a formula (and there are such extreme elements among Israeli Arabs ) will thus prove that he is not interested in civil rights but the denial of Israel's legitimacy. The demand for a pledge of allegiance with substantive content is therefore acceptable and justified, but it is not too late to choose language that is both more substantive and less vulnerable to criticism.

* The Portuguese Catholic priest who's an Israeli citizen is not an invention.


Anonymous said...

I don't get it.

If I'd swear allegiance to the State of Israel to me that would include her legitimacy without a doubt. (how simple it must have been when you could just swear to a monarch;)
Is being a state really such a foggy description that it needs qualifying?

I checked the US-oath, I can't see any qualifying remark as to what the US is in there
Germany seems to have not been able to come up with an oath and the one planned would have been on our constitution. Jurists certainly know how to make things confusing for "normals". What if weird lawyers changed parts of our constitution in ways I couldn't approve of while the land might still be dear to me?


peterthehungarian said...

...and there are such extreme elements among Israeli Arabs...

Really? Some naturalized Israeli citizens likE Seth Freedman, Mya Guarnieri, Rachel Shabi and the Guardian other court-Israelis are not exactly of Arab descent...

NormanF said...

Swearing loyalty to Israel is problem? Simply expel Arabs who won't take the oath. No citizen should have a problem with allegiance to his country. It should not even be controversial. It helps to remember the infamous Nazi oath was to a person, not to the nation of Germany. Nothing fascist about it.

Mordechai said...

Avineri's suggestion seems perfectly fair. However, as another commenter pointed out, the oath should apply to ALL new citizens to Israel - i.e. to Jewish immigrants (or "olim" in the Israeli discourse).

As an oleh myself, I felt that my citizenship meant very little as I received it only after handing in a note from a rabbi verifying I was Jewish. We should reform the Law of Return to give all Jews and part-Jews automatic rights to landed immigrant status. After several years of living in Israel, they would be responsible for taking an oath such as that which all other citizens should take. In my own experience, such an oath would have made the whole affair more meaningful.

Obviously, serving in the army or in non-military national service would fast track olim's citizenship process.

The way the system works now is broken. Olim from developed countries often leave within months and carry these Israeli citizenships that are void of significance. Meanwhile those from the Former Soviet Union often get trapped in Israel, having come due to false promises and are unable to return due to their having taken up citizenship in a foreign country.

These reforms will be beneficial to olim themselves, make the Law of Return more balanced with the standard immigration process (of course, many will always criticize it), and create a better and more honest ideal of citizenship in Israel.

Ruth said...


as far as I know that is the situation already. A Jewish friend (originally from Venezuela) went to receive her citizenship after a few years of residency and came back quite moved by the ceremony and told us that she had taken an oath.

Anonymous said...

That is not the situation for American olim - you get your citizenship at Ben-Gurion Airport without any sort of oath.

Anonymous said...

Becoming a citizen in America is a very big deal. These people have to study our constitution, our laws and learn what it means to live in a democracy. In order to pass these rigorous tests, these people have to really, really want to be American citizens.

The result is that these new citizens are second to no one in their patriotism and love of their new country. They willing fight for and support their new country and all her ways. The only notable exceptions are the muslims.

Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor felt that this language is an unnecessary provocation of Israel's Arab citizens, and he is right.

No! He is wrong. To be concerned with the feelings of a person who wants to become a citizen with all the rights and privileges that entails, and yet retain their allegiance to, in this case islam, is absurd. What country would want such a person? If called upon to defend their country against another muslim, who do you thing they will pick?

Israeli leaders need to make up their minds. Are they Jews or are they not? Do they want people as citizens who would deny their right to be Jews? Do they want to grant rights and privileges to people who swear an allegiance to islam first and Israel second? If new citizens’ feeling can be hurt because Israel see herself as a Jewish country, then they should not become citizens, period.

SarahSue American Jewish citizen