This morning, a few days after Likud MK Miki Zohar proposed annexing the West Bank without giving Palestinians the right to vote, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation is scheduled to discuss a bill that could harm the right of Arabs who are citizens of Israel to vote and to run for office. The proposed amendment to the Basic Law on the Knesset would add to the oath of office sworn by Knesset members — “to be loyal to the State of Israel” — the phrase “as a Jewish and democratic state, in accordance with the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, to preserve and to respect it symbols.”
It is not by chance that the preamble to the draft law contains no mention of the purpose of the change. After all, it is obvious that no declaration of loyalty has the power to increase loyalty to the state. At best, the bill will cause hatred, anger and rebellion of Israel’s Arab minority. At worst it will reduce this community’s participation in the electoral process, thus dealing a mortal blow to Israeli democracy. From this it follows that the aim of the draft law is not to solve a problem, but rather to spark outrage and to impinge on the right of Arabs to vote and to run for office.
For a large portion of Arab Knesset members, the oath’s revised version requires them to be untrue to themselves: For years, the term “Jewish state” means exclusion and discrimination. Even if it’s possible for a national home for Jews to exist here in the framework of a Jewish and democratic state in which all citizens enjoy complete equality, that is not the situation in practice. That being the case, it is outrageous to demand that the elected representatives of Israel’s non-Jewish minority swear loyalty to the “Jewish state.”
In addition, since the interpretation of the concept “Jewish and democratic” is so controversial, there may also be Jews who are not willing to swear loyalty to it. If “Jewish state” might also include religious content, then what about atheists who call for absolute separation between religion and state? Other communities, such as ultra-Orthodox Jews, might not identify with the concept “Jewish and democratic.”
President Reuven Rivlin, in his “four tribes” address to the Herzliya Conference in June 2015, said that we must accept that non-Zionists are a part of Israel, that the definition of a national home for the Jewish people in a Jewish and democratic state is a definition of Zionism, and that we cannot force all citizens to be Zionist against their will. In a democratic state, everyone has full freedom of conscience and no one is forced to swear loyalty as a condition for participating in the game of democracy and exercising the right to be elected. The frequent attempts to pass such laws only send a message of insecurity, as if Israel’s Jewish and democratic identity were in doubt.
It is unwise to create a problem where none exists. The oath sworn by Knesset members today, of “loyalty to the State of Israel,” is sufficient. The government must reject the legislative proposal and stop passing laws whose sole purpose is to sow hatred and cause provocation.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.
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