The Ministerial Committee on Legislation yesterday rejected a bill that would have conditioned Israeli citizenship on a declaration of loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state.
The bill, proposed by Yisrael Beiteinu MK David Rotem, would have required applicants for citizenship to pledge loyalty to Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state and to the state's symbols and values. It would also condition citizenship on either military service or alternative national service.
However, only Yisrael Beiteinu MKs supported the bill. All other committee members voted against it.
The decision was a blow to the party, led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, since this proposal was a key plank in its election campaign. Yisrael Beiteinu finished a strong third in February's vote by playing on the perceived disloyalty of Israel's Arab citizens, constituting roughly one-fifth of the population.
Though party officials stressed that the bill was aimed at all Israelis, they focused primarily on what they termed the anti-Israel behavior of Arab citizens during the 2006 Second Lebanon War and the December-January offensive in the Gaza Strip.
Rotem could still try to get the proposal through parliament as a private member's bill, but it appears to lack majority support.
"I need to examine the reasons for the committee's rejection, and then I will decide whether to raise the bill in the Knesset [anyway]," Rotem said.
Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman welcomed the committee's decision. "I hope that bills such as this one will not be brought before this government again, or before any future government, and that sanity will once again play a role in governing the State of Israel," he said. "The administration must support the moderates and fight the extremists. Opposition to this bill is a necessary step in that direction."
Arab Knesset members also welcomed the decision. MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) termed it "an achievement in the battle against racism and fascism," while MK Ahmed Tibi (Ra'am-Ta'al) said that "the place for bills like this is on the trash heap of history."
Yisrael Beiteinu, by contrast, issued a statement charging that the bill's rejection "will enable continuation of the unacceptable trend of people abusing their Israeli citizenship and using it against the state in which they live. Yisrael Beiteinu will continue to work to strengthen Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state and will continue to fight the phenomena of disloyalty and abuse of Israeli democracy."
On Saturday, the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, an umbrella organization for Israeli Arab groups, had convened an emergency meeting that culminated in an urgent letter to President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin. The letter described several recent legislative proposals by right-wing MKs as "racist and fascist" and warned that such legislation could have "grave and existential" consequences for Israel's Arabs.
In contrast to the loyalty oath bill, the other two proposals cited in the letter have both moved forward. One, which would make it a crime to publicly deny Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, has already passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset, while the other, which would outlaw commemoration of the Nakba on Israel's Independence Day, was approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. Nakba - literally, "catastrophe" - is the Arab term for Israel's establishment in 1948.