Text size

The series of measures on entry and immigration to Israel to be brought on Sunday for cabinet approval - including a sixth extension of an amendment to the Citizenship Law - run contrary to a 2006 High Court ruling that deemed that legislation illegal. The initiative's wording perpetuates the lie that these measures are required by security considerations, when in truth they are clearly driven by demographic concerns. With a six-month extension to the amendment, the plans raise the question of whether the law's eight-year lifespan - having been consistently renewed under the guise of short-term, temporary legislation - is an acceptable state of affairs.

The new regulations also contain a substantive change for potential citizens, who until now have been required to "swear loyalty to the State of Israel." The new restrictions would require them to "swear loyalty to a Jewish and democratic state, and vow to abide by its laws."

The amended wording seems to be an attempt to light a societal fuse. In the Israel of today, it is impossible to force someone to swear loyalty to any one of the measure's clauses without tarring several large communities with disloyalty and opening a dangerous channel for revoking citizenship (though that may be precisely what a number of coalition lawmakers would like most ). Like a number of recently passed measures, this one smacks of Yisrael Beiteinu's attempts to undermine the citizenship of Israeli Arabs and bring ties between the state and its Arab citizens to the point of violent confrontation.

Among Israel's Arab citizens are those who oppose the state's definition as Jewish. Among Israel's Jews are those who oppose the state's definition as democratic, and strive for a halakhic state in which the laws of the Torah and their rabbinical interpretations supersede any earthly doctrine. Israel can abide by such a variety of views among its citizens, and among those seeking to become citizens. The freedom to hold differing opinions is one of the hallmarks of a democracy.

The significance of the word "Jewish" in the phrase "Jewish and democratic" is ambiguous, and all the better. There are some who will interpret the term in the context of the Basic Laws, as a representation of the values espoused by the Biblical prophets of Israel. Others will view it an indication that religious law takes precedence over secular law. And these are just a few interpretations. Under such circumstances, what point is there in obligating a would-be citizen to swear to a concept whose meaning is not entirely clear to him, nor can it be?

The loss of self-confidence evident in the decision to add the words "Jewish and democratic" to the loyalty oath must be overcome. The government must retain the prospective citizens' oath in its current form.