ANALYSIS / Lieberman's Loyalty Oath Isn't Unconstitutional, It's Unwise

The Neeman-Lieberman proposal lacks emphasis on the state's obligation to ensure full equality for all its citizens.

The proposed amendment to the Citizenship Law doesn't really add anything to the existing demand that a person seeking to become a naturalized citizen pledge to be "a loyal citizen of the State of Israel." Even the Neeman-Lieberman version of the amendment, which would require recognizing Israel as a "Jewish and democratic" state, is not an exceptional demand.

Israel's credo as a Jewish and democratic state was first voiced in the Declaration of Independence, which the High Court of Justice has deemed to have constitutional significance. But the Declaration of Independence also cites the principle of equality, prohibits discrimination and calls for full integration of the state's Arab citizens in its governing institutions.

Michal Patel

The Neeman-Lieberman proposal lacks this emphasis on the state's obligation to ensure full equality for all its citizens.

The 1992 Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom also states that its purpose is to protect human rights in light of Israel's values "as a Jewish and democratic state." This law does not expressly recognize equality as a constitutional right, but the High Court has made several precedent-setting rulings recognizing this right as inherent in the right to dignity, including some recognizing the collective rights of the Arab minority.

The bill would require a pledge of allegiance only of those who want to become citizens, not those who already are citizens. Moreover, discrimination might be claimed if the bill were to exempt Jews who become citizens through the Law of Return from taking the oath.

Still, given Israel's nature as a Jewish state, it would be difficult to view a decision to give preference to Jews by exempting them from the oath as constitutionally invalid. But neither is there anything wrong with requiring an oath of all new citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike, as many other countries do.

If the amendment is passed, the best wording would be: "I will be a loyal citizen of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state that grants equal rights to all its citizens." Such a declaration, in the spirit of the Netanyahu-Barak proposal, stresses the state's obligation to equality for all.

Even the Neeman-Lieberman wording would not be unconstitutional. But it is problematic, as it would be perceived as open or tacit discrimination against non-Jews.