Declaration of loyalty to a Jewish Israel: Implications and consequences

Published in Palestine-Israel
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By Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies

The recent trend of Israeli calls for Israeli citizens to take an oath of allegiance to the state suggests the rise of extremist right-wing and religious currents within Israel. It also suggests a growing spirit of racism against Arabs living in Israel, and an attempt to increase pressure on them. Moreover, this trend can be seen as a prelude for a law which will ultimately link the solution of the Palestinian issue to the future of the Israeli citizens who are originally Palestinians of Palestine 1948. Since the Palestinians of 1948 regard their presence in the country as pre-dating the establishment of the Israeli state, and because the notion of a declaration of allegiance clashes with their religious and national affiliations, they will persistently refuse to pledge loyalty to the state of Israel as a Jewish state. This conflict between the positions and considerations of the Israeli state and those of the indigenous people opens the way for various consequences. These would allow Israel further to tighten the noose on its Palestinian citizens, and create the conditions necessary to start a policy of displacement. However, this would expose Israel to more international isolation.



Introduction Israeli Prime Minister BinyaminNetanyahu's government has approved a set of new policies that relate to entrance and immigration into Israel. The government contends that the motivation that urged it to pass such policies was the problem of illegal entry into the country. Based on these policies – which could soon turn into laws if they pass three consecutive readings in the Knesset –applicants for Israeli citizenship will not only be required to express their loyalty to the country according to the common text 'I declare that I will be a loyal citizen to the state of Israel', but they will also have to add 'as a Jewish and democratic state'. These policies were put forward by a number of ministers backed by their parties and extremist, right-wing parliamentary blocs –particularly Yisrael Beitenu (Israel our Home) headed by Avigdor Lieberman. This party, especially, seeks to impose a number of laws on Palestinians in Israel in order to restrict their freedom and movement. &Demographics It is clear that the issue of loyalty is not as much related to illegal entry as it is to the issue which persistently haunts right-wing Israelis, namely the demographic motive. Statistics show that the number of Palestinians is increasing and now constitutes approximatelyfifty percent of the entire population within British Mandate Palestine. These figures indicate that the demographic 'risk' has future repercussions on Israel as a Jewish state.

A review of the various proposals on this issue indicates that Israeli citizenship is conditional not only on loyalty to Israel as a state, but alsoIsrael as a 'Jewish and democratic state'. The proponents of this project claim that it is 'similar to allegiance oaths known in many countries and consistent with the spirit and content of the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel'.

An in-depth analysis of this claim shows that in developed and enlightened countries, and even in some developing countries, those applying for citizenship are not required to pledge loyalty to a religion or a specific ideology but rather to the constitution, democratic norms and specific laws of that country. For example, the pledge of allegiance in the USA commits one to adherence to and defence of the Constitution. Similarly, allegiance in Norway, Belgium, Singapore and Brazil is for the respective country's laws and understanding of rights. Even in developing countries where there are national or religious minorities, the oath of allegiance rests on an impartial basis and the main focus is on loyalty to the state. In India, for example, the oath of allegiance is to the constitution and to civil obligations. The same applies in China where allegiance is to the state and not to Buddhism or the ruling Communist Party.

Nor does the US, India or any other state require allegiance to the Christian, Hindu or any other faith. For this reason, it is difficult to accept that the oath of allegiance for a Jewish state is 'normal and in effect in many countries' as the Israeli government has claimed during the debateof loyalty laws and other racist policies targeting Arabs. The proponents of these laws disguiseand distort the realities in most countries, including developing countries, in order to justify their racism. The kind of oath of allegiance proposal in Israel seems strange in our contemporary world, and understanding that is a prelude for understanding the proposed law and its implications. Moreover, laws are meant to challenge and confront issues and problems that need a solution.
We notice that these policies – which will likely be passed in the future as laws – were issued for political rather than legal or social aims or for facilitating people's lives. Instead of organising a relationship between the state and the Arab minority and dealing with them as citizens, the Israeli government has declared that it is against them and would fight them if they did not respond to its laws, including the loyalty law. This means that Israel has effectively declared war against its own citizens! As we talk about the motivations behind these policies, we realise that the government, including the prime minister and a large number of particularly right-wing ministers, question the loyalty of the Arab citizens sixty-two years after the establishment of the Israeli state. This is occurring despite the fact that these Arab citizens still live in Israel. The other claim – that the oath of loyalty is consistent with the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel – is also faulty. (This does not suggest that we accept the declaration or agree that it is an entirely democratic document.) The Declaration mentions that Israel 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 further states that Arab Israelis are entitled to 'full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions'. This latter provision, however, is not demonstrated in the oath of allegiance proposed in the new law. &Significance and Repercussions

  1. The pursuit of this trend will lead to the isolation of Israel and demonstrate its violation of values and norms known and accepted across the world.
  2. Declaring loyalty to a Jewish state as a precondition for citizenship does not allow equality in social and political rights of all Israeli citizens regardless of difference in religion. Further, it does not grant full and equal citizenship to the residents of Israel other than Jews, since the children of non-Jewish families would be required to take an oath of allegiance to Judaism (which is not their religion) and not to the state, its institutions and laws.
  3. Orchestrating and allowing for discrimination against Arab citizens in Israel and framing this discrimination within state laws.
  4. Escalation of tension and conflict between the Jewish majority and the national Arab minority in Israel.
  5. Exclusion of the Arab national minority in Israel from full and effective participation in social and political life.
  6. Causing serious harm to the foundations of the democratic system in Israel. On one hand, it requires an oath of allegiance for religion or for ideology or specific nationalism in order to get essential citizenship rights. This requirement does not respect the principles of democratic societies founded on pluralism and freedom of religion, worship and thought, and serves to undermine democracy in Israel (according to the claims of the fathers of Zionism and the founders of the state) while not guaranteeing Israel's existence as a Jewish state.
  7. Allegations by legal experts that the Jewish identity of Israel is founded and guaranteed in previous laws which have been determined by the state institutions and holidays. This occurs in addition to a number of laws related to the right of return of Diaspora Jews and the slogans of the state which confirm its Jewish identity. Thus, highlighting this issue at this stage does not aim at finding legal solutions but rather stems from racist ideological and political backgrounds.
  8. The Israeli government knows well that Arab citizens living in Israel will not be prepared to sign such an oath of allegiance because the declaration of a 'Jewish State' will clearly indicate a policy of neglecting the Arab minority and of discriminating against them. With the Palestinian issue still unsettled, the Israeli government has implicitly linked its will to impose the Jewish identity of the state and its attitude towards its Arab citizens on the one hand to the solution of the Palestinian issue on the other.
  9. Questioning the loyalty of Arab citizens towards the Israeli state, particularly at this stage, is a purely political issue. In addition, it is a basis for a range of deliberate issues (or political manoeuvres) that will definitely lead to a widening of the rift between Israel as a state and its Arab citizens while leading to enhanced tension within the Arab areas in Israel.
  10. Approving the law will lead to an imposition of sanctions on a large segment of the Arab population in Israel, including depriving many of their citizenship. This will ultimately lead to proposing 'transfer' as an alternative. It is worth mentioning that every Monday and Thursday Lieberman presents projects for population and territory exchange as steps in the current negotiations with the Palestinians.
  11. One of the repercussions of the oath of allegiance might appear within the Israeli community itself, as the issue of the Jewish identity of Israel has not yet been resolved and remains a controversial issue among different Israeli currents. Thus, we see that the issue bears, both in form and content, religious and national aims and expressions. Based on democratic norms, it is not possible to impose a pledge of allegiance to a Jewish and democratic state on a religious ultra-Orthodox Jew who does not accept Zionism as a legitimate current within Judaism and does not believe in democracy because religion is the basis of his life. Why, then, do we raise this topic? Because the Israeli government defines the foundation of Israel as one of the accomplishments of the Zionist project; thus the meaning of 'Jewish identity' for the government and secular parties is Zionist with added democracy although this is rejected by ultra-Orthodox religious Jews (taking into consideration that they use democracy as a way to reach the Knesset and to achieve various gains – financial and employment-related).
  12. The declaration that Israel is a Jewish state has a religious basis. This will lead to an accumulation of difficulties and obstacles for non-Jews if they have to take the allegiance oath.
  13. Many legal academics, human rights practitioners and politicians view these laws (and all other laws which restrict the movement and status of Arabs in Israel) as detracting from the idea of Israel as a respectable state within the international community, and increasing its international isolation while further driving away the supporters of the Jewish people.
  14. The Netanyahu government, and Netanyahu personally, asked the Palestinian Authority to acknowledge the Jewish identity of Israel as a condition for the continuation of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. A closer look at this demand makes us realise that the Jewish identity of Israel depends on Palestinian recognition of that identity. Palestinian rejection of this notion is something they should cling to. They have to affirm that they do not recognise the Israeli demand, rather than declaring it as a non-Palestinian affair, as has been stated by the Palestinian leadership.
  15. It is obvious that introducing the loyalty law will lead to the division of Israeli society; not only would Arabs be accused of disloyalty but so will many Orthodox religious Jews. These together form about one-third of the entire Israeli population. This ratio is not negligible and will thus lead to tension in the relations between the government as an administrative and regulatory organ on one hand, and the opponents of this and other discriminatory laws, on the other.
  16. If this law wins the confidence and ratification of parliament, it would prove that the government and the Knesset, in addition to large segments of the people in Israel, wish to head towards the establishment of an ethno-racial state. Such a state will prosecute its citizens for refusing to take an oath of allegiance which they do not accept because they belong to another ethnicity and because they do not accept Israel as a Jewish state. The majority of the dissenters—the Arab Palestinians in Israel—prefer to cling to the principles of democracy as inclusive of all citizens, that is, considering that the state is for all its citizens and not only for one party against another. This is unacceptable for Israel because it fears losing the Jewish demographic majority.
  17. Arabs in Israel refuse the oath of allegiance as a condition for citizenship since they were in Palestine even before the establishment of Israel. In other words, Israel came to them; they did not go to it. Thus, they consider this oath as contradictory to a normal situation and as a policy which strips them of their rights as citizens, regardless of the unequal treatment they have already received from consecutive Israeli governments.

&Ppossible Scenarios It seems that the proposal for such a law came into being in the context of the peace settlement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Thus, it can be speculated that Netanyahu's government is trying to link the future of the Jewish identity of the state to its stand towards the Palestinians of 1948 and the solution of the Palestinian issue as a whole. Based on the aforementioned, the implications of this decision are expected to result in one of three scenarios: &1. Increase of tension and restrictions on the Palestinians of 1948 This scenario is based on the system of racist laws and procedures imposed by consecutive Israeli governments on the Palestinians of 1948. It is reinforced by statistics which show that, demographically, the Palestinian population will be equal to the Jewish population within Mandate Palestine in the near future. This possibility is likely because of the pressure imposed by the Israeli government on the Palestinians and the increasing popularity of right-wing and religious extremists among Jews, in addition to the continuous encroachment of Jewish settlers on the property and sacred sites of the indigenous people of the land. &2. Starting a policy of displacement What opens the door for this possibility is the refusal of the Palestinians of 1948, Muslims and Christians alike, to takean oath of allegiance, thus making it likely that the Israeli government will pursue a series of punitive measures against them. These measures include, but are not limited to, awithdrawal of Israeli citizenship, refusal to give the citizenship to children and newborns, and the exclusion of Palestinian citizens from public life and public institutions. This possibility is enhanced by the increase of racist feelings amongst Israelis and the pursuit by Israeli right-wing forces, such as Yisrael Beitenu, of the idea of population and territory exchange in the context of a peace settlement with the Palestinians. &3. Exposing Israel to international isolation There is no doubt that the loyalty law and the procedures that accompany it would characterise the political system in Israel with a set of values and customs different from those known in democratic countries. This would add to the accusations increasingly being levelled against Israel as a threat to international peace and security and as a successor to the former apartheid regime in South Africa. The confluence of four factors enhances the possibility of this scenario becoming a reality:

  1. Failure to reach a final peace settlement and to establish a Palestinian state;
  2. The steadfastness of the Palestinians of 1948 in their land despite the increasing racist Israeli practices against them;
  3. An increasing official and public awareness of Israeli practices and global demands that Israel must not remain above the law, while demanding that the US stops its protection and support for Israel; and
  4. Moral and legal embarrassment of the proponents of Israel, thus making them reluctant or unwilling to defend this state or its policies which stand in stark contradiction to international legitimacy and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


  1. The Palestinian leadership should refuse the recognition of the Jewish identity of Israel as being contrary to the principles of international law and the foundations of a contemporary modern state.
  2. The full rights of citizenship for all the Palestinians of 1948 must be supported.
  3. The Palestinian leadership should refuse any population exchange with Israel.
  4. All laws and racist acts of Israel should be collated and presented through global fora and competent international institutions to expose Israel before the western and international public opinion as an 'apartheid state', and campaigns to isolate it internationally must be strengthened.

* This assessment is published in terms of a partnership agreement between Afro-Middle East Centre and Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations

* Al-Zaytouna Centre and Afro-Middle East Centre thank Dr. Johnny Mansour for authoring the original text on which this assessment was based

Last modified on Wednesday, 18 February 2015 14:54

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