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Israel's loyalty oath bill

By Antoun Issa - posted Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Let's not sugarcoat this. Israel's new loyalty oath bill is discriminatory, ethno-centric and provocative.

Should it pass into law, non-Jews would be required to pledge allegiance to Israel as a "Jewish and democratic" state to attain citizenship.

Enforcing an ethnic and religious aspect of a state on citizens runs contrary to the Western democratic principles of civil liberty, equality and individual freedom. Rather, it reeks of a repugnant ethnic nationalism. History has not been kind to ethno-centric states, from the bloodbaths of Europe in World War II, to Apartheid in South Africa and the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. 


Pursuing an ethno-centric model for state preservation is a recipe for disaster, particularly in countries with ethnically and religiously diverse populations such as Israel.

Arabs constitute 20% of Israel's population, and that does not include the approximately 4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.  It is bewildering, then, that the Netanyahu government would persist with a bill that excludes half of the population under Israel's jurisdiction by insisting they pledge loyalty to a religion not of their own.

Indeed, the loyalty oath bill only reinforces accusations that Israel is an Apartheid state that treats and divides its people on an ethnic and religious basis.

Israeli political commentator Gideon Levy has slammed the move as "ethnocratic, theocratic, nationalistic and racist".

The most dangerous hallmark of an ethnic nationalist state is that it creates an exclusive society that divides the privileged from the unwanted. It divided whites from blacks in South Africa under Apartheid, and will equally place the Palestinians in an inferior status in Israel and the Occupied Territories.

By proposing the loyalty oath bill, Israel is prodding along an already long and bloody conflict, when it should be seeking its resolution.


Internal consequences

In addition to the dangers the loyalty oath bill brings to the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are the consequences for Israel's deeply divided Jewish society. The high profile Arab-Israeli conflict has perhaps overshadowed strongly-held opposing perceptions on what Israel represents amongst its Jewish population.

Any move to enshrine Judaism as the defining aspect of Israel is sure to rattle a few cages among Israel's secular Jews, many of whom will view it as another attempt by Israel's ultra-Orthodox to impose religious conservatism on the state.

It is a far cry from the Israel that was once upheld as the only Western liberal democracy in the Middle East. Ironically, it appears Israel is moving further away from its democratic roots to resemble more closely the Middle Eastern neighbourhood it has long despised. The "Jewish Republic of Israel" - as Levy refers to it - is becoming more akin to its theocratic and discriminatory rivals in Saudi Arabia and Iran.

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About the Author

Antoun Issa is an Australian-based freelance political writer, Global Voices Online author, and commentator on international affairs, with a specific interest in Middle Eastern issues.

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