Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced yesterday in a surprise move that he conditionally supports a proposed amendment to the Citizenship Law that would require naturalized citizens to pledge allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
Barak, who is also chairman of the Labor Party, said his condition was that the following words be added to the pledge: "in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence."
The original proposal for pledging allegiance to a Jewish and democratic state was formulated by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman. The pledge would be required only of naturalized citizens.
Sunday's cabinet meeting is expected to be stormy, because contrary to Barak's stance, other Labor ministers oppose both Neeman's proposal and Barak's alternative.
Strong opposition is also expected from two Likud Ministers, Dan Meridor and Benny Begin.
Barak is reportedly not opposed to Neeman's formulation. "There are parties to which this is important, and it's particularly so to the prime minister," a close associate of Barak's said yesterday. "The defense minister also thinks it's just fine, and he's allowed to have a different opinion" than other Labor ministers.
But Barak himself said the wording he proposed reflects the liberal and open spirit of the Declaration of Independence and the fundamental values of the State of Israel. He also noted that pledges of allegiance are required of naturalized citizens in some of the world's most civilized countries.
His office added in a statement that the defense minister and his associates had not been party to the drafting of Neeman's proposal, and has therefore asked that his alternative draft be put to a vote at Sunday's cabinet meeting.
Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman (Labor ), however, said he saw no difference between the Neeman bill and Barak's proposal, and "therefore, it is irrelevant. It is peculiar that Barak should raise such a proposal without consulting the rest of the party's ministers."
Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog (Labor ) said Barak's proposal was unacceptable to him, and he would make that clear to Barak when the Labor ministers meet before the cabinet meeting on Sunday.
Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, also of Labor, called the bill "provocative and unnecessary" and said it was "another obstacle to peace designed by" Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who heads the Yisrael Beiteinu party.
And Labor's only Arab MK, Raleb Majadele, sent a letter yesterday to the head of Labor's Knesset faction, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, asking him to "ensure that our ministers vote against the bill." He also asked Simhon to raise the issue at the faction's meeting on Monday, "so we can make a clear decision that we oppose the law. Israel's Arab citizens, who see the Labor Party as their political home, expect to see the party's leaders acting with determination to thwart this law."
Begin, of Likud, is expected to tell the cabinet that the situation should remain as it is, but if it is changed, that Israel should be defined as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in contrast, strongly defended the Neeman bill yesterday, saying, "Not only is it proper, but it is natural. I would say anything else is unnatural."
He denied that his support for amending the Citizenship Law stemmed from a political deal between him and Lieberman.
"This is my understanding [of Israel]; no one has to force it on me," he said. "Anyone who has read my books and my statements over the years knows how deep this runs, and in my opinion it is the right thing."
The prime minister added that "a very great struggle is underway today to negate and blur Israel's character as the nation-state of the Jewish people, an attempt to claim that it does not belong to the Jewish people from a national standpoint. I believe the struggle over this issue, at both the international and the domestic level, is an essential struggle."
Israel, he continued, "has full equality for Jews and non-Jews, but it is a Jewish and democratic state."
MK Michael Eitan, also of Likud, said yesterday that "Israel's Arabs have nothing to fear from a Jewish and democratic state. The correct road to understanding between Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens does not run through denial of the fundamental principles that make Israel a Jewish state, but through giving real substance to the rights these principles should be granting Israel's Arab citizens."
Meanwhile, a new Haaretz/Dialog poll supervised by Prof. Camil Fuchs found that 62 percent of the public is dissatisfied with Barak's performance. According to the poll, if elections were held today, Labor would garner only eight Knesset seats, as opposed to 13 seats in the 2009 election.
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