It would be a mistake for the government to adopt a proposal to expand the general pledge of allegiance required of naturalized citizens (those who are not entitled to citizenship under the Law of Return ) by adding a pledge of allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. If you try to grab too much, you can be left empty-handed.
When attorney Liav Orgad, Prof. Amnon Rubinstein, Prof. Ruth Gavison and I drew up a draft immigration policy for Israel, we debated this issue. We also thought it was not sufficient for someone seeking citizenship, especially through marriage to an Israeli citizen, to make do with a general pledge of allegiance to the laws of the state of Israel.
We, however, favored a declaration about accepting the legitimacy of the state of Israel. This was likewise the stance we presented to a committee appointed by the government and headed by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman.
Israel indeed sees itself as a Jewish and democratic state, and this is both correct and justified. But the content of this term is vague, making it possible for people who hold differing views to live with it in peace. For most of Israel's Jewish citizens, its significance is that Israel is the Jewish nation-state, and it represents the Jewish people's right to self-determination and its political expression. For part of the Jewish religious public, the term also has religious significance (and I presume Interior Minister Eli Yishai of Shas shares this approach ).
That is the right of Shas and those who think as it does, but there is no reason whatsoever for the state's Jewish majority, which attaches national significance to the term, to bow to this approach. Imagine someone in the process of naturalization, on being told to swear allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, asking the Interior Ministry official handling his case what a "Jewish state" means. What would the reply be? After all, Israeli law does not define this term in any way - and that is a good thing. (I'm also not sure he would get an appropriate response with regard to the meaning of "democratic." )
There is, of course, an international aspect to this issue as well. Not everyone in the world understands the significance of the term "Jewish state," and incorporating it in legislation on a subject as sensitive as the naturalization of non-Jews would only engender confusion and criticism.
The claim being made by the prime minister's advisors - that if we demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, "we are also permitted to ask it of ourselves" - is absurd and hypocritical. After all, the proposed legislation does not demand it of "ourselves," but of others who want to become citizens.
Our proposal, to require naturalized citizens to declare that they accept the legitimacy of the state of Israel, addresses the problem, and is also a justified demand. After all, this legitimacy is what Israel's enemies, especially in the Arab world, reject. Palestinians who wish to marry Israeli Arabs may have difficulty voicing a declaration of this kind, but that is their problem. If they wish to be citizens of Israel, they cannot reject its legitimacy.
In the international arena, it is difficult to imagine that anyone would object to a demand of this kind. Even Arab human rights organizations, which oppose a pledge of allegiance to a Jewish and democratic state, would have difficulty opposing recognition of Israel's legitimacy. For if they did, they would confirm what some people already think anyway: That they do indeed oppose the State of Israel's legitimacy, and its very existence.
The government should be praised for its willingness to address the problem of immigration to Israel. But it doesn't pay for it to get embroiled in an argument over an issue of such sensitivity to so many people - in Israel, overseas and among the Arab public.
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