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The Jewish oath of loyalty is neither immoral nor discriminatory

By Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz - posted Monday, 1 November 2010

There has been a great deal of unwarranted criticism of Israel's proposed loyalty oath bill. The controversy surrounds the addition of the words "Jewish and democratic state" to an existing oath of loyalty to Israel which all new Israeli citizens will be expected to swear. The bill may be poorly timed and of questionable necessity, however the sentiment behind it is in no way immoral or discriminatory.

It is an all too common misconception that Arab citizens of Israel are not treated equally because Israel is a "Jewish state". The concept of a "Jewish state" is often misconstrued as being indicative of some form of ethno-centric desire to form a state for Jews and only Jews. This could not be further from the truth. In actual fact, Israel enshrines full legal and human rights to all of its citizens in its Declaration of Independence, the document on which Israel was founded as a Jewish state and the basis of Israeli constitutional law.

Dozens of democracies around the world - from Poland, to Spain, to Japan, to Italy, to Turkey, to Greece, to Ireland - are, like Israel, constitutionally associated with the history, culture and symbols of a particular ethnicity without in any way disadvantaging or discriminating against citizens who do not identify with that ethnicity.


Non-Jewish citizens of Israel have the same rights under Israeli law as Jewish citizens - they are afforded healthcare, welfare and education as are all other citizens. As citizens of Israel, they have rights that are almost unheard of in the region, such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of expression. Most importantly, they can even vote and run for parliament, no matter what their platform - Israel is one of the only countries in the world where several political parties within its parliament actively and vocally seek its destruction. There have been Israeli Arabs in cabinet, an Israeli Arab jurist is on the country's Supreme Court, and an Israeli Arab was deputy speaker of Israel's parliament, the Knesset.

Israel is the only country in the Middle East where Arab women are treated equally and Muslim men and women can be openly homosexual without fear. There is no other Middle-Eastern country in which an Arab Muslim would be allowed to march in a gay pride parade while protected under the country's laws, never mind being openly gay without fearing for their life.

That is not to say that there is no disparity. Arabs in Israel do unfortunately suffer from varying degrees of social discrimination. This is not dissimilar from minorities in most other democracies, and, in terms of disparities in such social indicators as income, education, and health, they are actually far better off than Australia's Indigenous peoples or many immigrant communities in Europe. However, obviously, it is a problem that Israel's government is obligated to, and is attempting to, address, just like the other countries in which such disparities exist, including our own.

While the Palestinians tend to argue that all of Palestine rightfully belongs to them and Jews are foreign invaders, It is important to bear in mind the historical connection that the Jewish people have maintained to their homeland for thousands of years. Despite the majority of Jews being expelled from the land by the Romans in the first century CE, there has been a continuous significant Jewish presence in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. Furthermore, the land of Israel is at the very core of Jewish culture and tradition - Jews for two thousand years have inter alia prayed three times daily facing towards Jerusalem and sung "next year in Jerusalem" on the holiest day of the year.

It was with this in mind that predominantly secular Jews fleeing persecution in Europe determined to return to Zion, their historic homeland. The area often referred to as Palestine, including what is now Jordan, had been passed from empire to empire in the preceding millennia - but has never been an independent state or major political centre for the region. After the First World War, it found itself in the hands of the British. In a series of proposals, it was recognised that there were two distinct peoples in the land - Jews and Arabs - and both were entitled to their own state. This was ratified by the UN partition plan in 1947, which called for the creation of a Jewish state alongside an Arab state.

Accepting Israel as a Jewish state, therefore, is less about the alleged superiority of one ethnicity over another, and more about recognising that Jews, like all other people, have a legitimate right to self-determination in a country to which they have a historical connection and in which they have a continuous presence and a current majority. It is important to note that despite the many differences between Hamas and Fatah, and despite both parties' refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state, both agree that when a Palestinian state is created, it will create a constitutionally privileged position for Islam. Indeed, every current state in the Middle East constitutionally identifies itself as Arab, or Islamic, or both.


Indications suggest that the bill to amend the loyalty oath may well not even pass through the Knesset. In the case that it does, the political prudence of this move on Israel's behalf would definitely be questionable. That said, the sentiment that Israel should exist and be recognised as a "Jewish and democratic state", especially by its own citizens, should be uncontroversial. The internationally accepted proposition for a resolution to the conflict begins with a plan of "two states for two peoples". Until those who oppose this concept accept that both sides have a legitimate right to their own land, it is difficult to see how an lasting peace can be achieved.

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About the Author

Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz is a policy analyst at the Australian/Israel Jewish Affairs Council

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