The cabinet voted yesterday to support an amendment to the citizenship law that would require any non-Jew seeking to become a citizen to swear loyalty to the State of Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state." Twenty-two ministers voted in favor, including most of the Likud ministers, as well as cabinet members from Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu. Eight cabinet members, including Benny Begin, Dan Meridor and Michael Eitan of Likud and the five Labor ministers voted against.
The issue will not be submitted for Knesset approval at this time, however, as it was decided that Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman should consider potential changes and resubmit it to the cabinet.
The text supported by the cabinet yesterday is the formula drafted by Neeman, who during yesterday's debate refused to accept proposed changes to the controversial proposal from ministers who opposed it.
Among the proposed amendments was one by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who sought to have the loyalty oath to the state include the words "in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence," which refers to equal rights for all the state's citizens.
During the debate, a confrontation developed between Barak and Neeman. The justice minister also rejected Benny Begin's proposal to change the reference to a Jewish state to "the nation-state of the Jewish people."
It was ultimately resolved that in the coming weeks, Neeman would consider adding a reference to the Declaration of Independence to the proposal and consider also applying the loyalty oath requirement to Jews who become Israeli citizens through the Law of Return.
At the opening of the cabinet session, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the loyalty oath measure in the form in which it was voted on. "The State of Israel," he said, "is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and it is a democratic state in which all of its citizens, Jews and non-Jews, enjoy full equality of rights."
The prime minister added: "Unfortunately, there are those today who are attempting to blur not only the unique connection between the Jewish people and its homeland, but also the connection between the Jewish people and its state."
Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said: "This law is unnecessary and damaging. There is no reason for it. It doesn't solve any kind of problem, but just puts Israel in a complicated situation with respect to its Arab citizens and the world."
Neeman's agreement to consider applying the law to Jews as well as non-Jews who become citizens was designed to soften the opposition of Begin, Eitan and Meridor, who said the law was discriminatory.
Yisrael Beiteinu, which made the change to the citizenship law a priority, called yesterday's vote "an important message to those in the country and abroad who seek to call into question that the State of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people."
In the course of the cabinet discussion, Minister of Minority Affairs Avishay Braverman (Labor ) said: "This law is a stain on the government of Israel." He added: "Ben-Gurion would be turning in his grave today," in reference to the first prime minister.
Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog (Labor ) said: "I have been feeling for some time that fascism is consuming the edges of the camp, and we are not noticing it." He called the situation a slippery slope that was "disturbing to anyone who fears for the democratic character of the country."
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima ) also condemned the proposal.
Ahmed Tibi, the chairman of United Arab List-Ta'al, said: "Israel is proving that it is not equal and in reality it is democratic vis-a-vis Jews and Jewish vis-a-vis Arabs."
Sikkuy, the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel, said that instead of allaying tensions between the Arab public and the Jewish community in Israel, the government is systematically working to exacerbate tensions and damage the rights of Israeli Arabs.
More than 100 writers, artists, MKs and academics gathered in front of Independence Hall in Tel Aviv yesterday afternoon to protest the proposed amendment to the citizenship law.
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