There are many models of what constitutes a democratic state and an entire branch of science - political science - dedicated to the study and characterization of democracies. But no one knows what constitutes a Jewish state. Any attempt to define the meaning of a Jewish state is likely to run into objections from many of that country's citizens, including Jewish citizens. The most acceptable definition of a Jewish, democratic state is a democracy in which there is a Jewish majority.
The Jewish majority in the State of Israel is not guaranteed forever, but there are three ways to guarantee it for the foreseeable future: withdrawal from the occupied territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state; denying Palestinian refugees the right to return to Israel's sovereign territory; and the Law of Return, which allows Jews to become Israeli citizens.
Since no one really knows what constitutes a Jewish state, and since one fifth of Israelis are Palestinians, it is clear that some of the Palestinian citizens of Israel do not agree with its characterization as a Jewish state. Justifiably, they demand equality in every respect. In any case, there is no point in asking the Palestinian Authority, which sees itself as the representative of the entire Palestinian people, to recognize Israel as the Jewish state. There is concern that this is a deliberate ploy to undermine the peace negotiations, at a time when the practical issue that should be under discussion is the Palestinians' waiving of their right of return - which would safeguard the Jewish majority.
The proposed amendment to the Citizenship Law which will be brought before the cabinet today - obligating non-Jews seeking to become Israeli citizens to swear allegiance to a Jewish and democratic state - is provocative, confrontational, discriminatory and perhaps even unconstitutional. It will force the partners of Palestinian Israelis who want to become naturalized citizens, yet do not accept the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, to swear allegiance to something they do not believe in. From their perspective, this can only be seen as discriminatory and exclusionary.
It is precisely where the proposed oath has no practical significance, among Palestinian citizens, that the damage it will cause will be massive. Israel is duty-bound - indeed, it is in Israel's best interest - to bolster the partnership between these people and the state's Jewish citizens. The demand for such an oath of allegiance will merely prove to them that Israel does not want them to be equal to its Jewish citizens and that their very citizenship is under doubt. A decade after the events of October 2000, the government must back down from this superfluous and damaging proposal.
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