Opposition leader Tzipi Livni speaking at the Knesset
Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni Photo by Michal Fattal
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Leader of the opposition and Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni condemned on Sunday the cabinet's approval of a controversial amendment to the Citizenship Law requiring non-Jews seeking citizenship to pledge allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

"What we have seen today is politics at its worst. The sensitive issue of Israel's existence as a Jewish and democratic state has become subject to political horse-trading."

"It is essential that we maintain Israel's status as a Jewish state with equal rights for all its citizens. This proposal contributes nothing to this goal. On the contrary, it will cause internal conflict and damage [Israel's image in the world]."

Israeli Arab MK Ahmed Tibi attacked earlier on Sunday the cabinet's approval of the amendment.

"The government of Israel has become subservient to Yisrael Beiteinu and its fascist doctrine," said Tibi. "No other state in the world would force its citizens or those seeking citizenship to pledge allegiance to an ideology."

"Israel has proven that it is not equal and is a democracy for Jews and not for Arabs," he added.

The amendment is one of the promises Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made to Yisrael Beitenu in the coalition agreements. Since coming into government Yisrael Beitenu has advanced a long list of "loyalty" laws, which many consider to be discriminatory against Israel's Arab citizens.

Yisrael Beiteinu was enthusiastic over the cabinet's majority vote, calling it "an important message to all those, both inside and outside, who seek to question the State of Israel's existence as the national state of the Jewish people."

Meretz chairman MK Haim Oron also condemned the amendment on Sunday, saying that "time and again it is evident that the government has adopted Lieberman's agenda in its entirety."

Oron added that the government has sunk into a "moral and political abyss."

Hadash chairman Mohammed Barakeh blamed on Sunday Netanyahu and Barak for supporting and promoting "mega-racist legislation."

Israeli Arab MK Talab al-Sana said on Sunday that "the amendment is a serious blow to democracy and will cause the exclusion of 20 percent of the country's citizens... [It] will situate Israel as the successor of Apartheid-era South Africa."

The cabinet voted Sunday by a majority in favor of the amendment, which was submitted by Justice Minister Ya'akov Ne'eman. But ministers had been divided on the issue since it was first raised.

At the last minute, Ne'eman had suggested amending the draft to require Jews to sign a similar loyalty oath. Defense Minister Ehud Barak submitted an amendment of his own to the draft, demanding it include mention of "Jewish and democratic state in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence of [1948]."

Barak insisted that adding a reference to the Declaration of Independence "would be the best way to reflect the fundamental values of the State of Israel."

This slight change to include the declaration "would not harm the Arab minority," he said, noting that similar declarations are common in many countries in the world.

Most Labor politicians opposed the bill, including Isaac Herzog and Avishay Braverman, who lead the opposition, and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who was absent from the meeting but left a letter in which he expresses his opposition.

Minister Shalom Simhon (Labor) also skipped the meeting, as he was abroad on a business trip.

Herzog told Haaretz late Saturday that the resounding support for such an amendment showed that "fascism was devouring the margins of society."

"We are on a most dangerous slippery slope," he warned.

Likud ministers Dan Meridor and Benny Begin were expected to try and dissuade their cabinet colleagues from supporting the amendment.

Meridor led an assault on the amendment and warned that such an amendment to the law could severely damage relations with the Arab population in Israel.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin was also opposed to the bill, declaring: "The students of Jabotinsky see no need for such bill. I am a fervent Zionist, and I need no strengthening of my belief. The establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel was an ethical act that the world recognized, and it gained great respect when we described our country as Jewish and democratic. This description is also anchored specifically in the Declaration of Independence and the Law on Elections, and any additions of this type can only be harmful."

"This law will not assist us as a society and a state. On the contrary, it could arm our enemies and opponents in the world in an effort to emphasize the trend for separatism or even racism within Israel," Rivlin said.

"I am not opposed to saying each morning and evening that we are a Jewish and democratic state, but why do we need this law?" Rivlin said.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai said, meanwhile, that he would propose his own bill that strip citizenship off of anyone convicted of disloyalty to the state.

"Declarations are not enough in the fact against incidents such as [MKs] Azmi Bishara and Hanin Zoabi," Yishai said in reference to two Israeli Arab lawmakers, one who is suspected of having contacts with enemy states and the other who took part in a Gaza-bound aid flotilla. "Anyone who betrays the state will lose his citizenship."