No Knesset Majority for Loyalty Oath for Jews and non-Jews

Only 56 of 120 MKs say they support the bill requiring Jews and non-Jews alike to pledge allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; Justice Minister: I'll quit if loyalty oath applies only to non-Jews.

Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman has reportedly said he will not remain in the cabinet if a bill requiring naturalized citizens to pledge allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state does not pass.

But a head count by Haaretz reveals that currently, there is no Knesset majority for the bill: Only 56 of the 120 MKs support it. Its passage will thus depend on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ability to strong-arm MKs who currently oppose it into switching their vote.

Neeman with Netanyahu, Olivier Fitoussi, 2009
Olivier Fitoussi

Neeman made his reported comment at a closed meeting with Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser, Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein and coalition chairman Zeev Elkin to discuss the exact wording of the bill, following Netanyahu's decision on Monday that the pledge should be required of all new citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike, as Neeman had wanted. This is a change from last week's cabinet decision that would have required the oath only of non-Jewish naturalized citizens.

Edelstein and Elkin, both immigrants from the former Soviet Union, told Neeman at the meeting that they won't support the bill in its new form, as it discriminates between Jews born in Israel and Jews who immigrate under the Law of Return. That would undermine the point of the Law of Return, which was to treat any Jew who moves here as the equal of someone born here, they argued.

Neeman spent most of Tuesday in feverish negotiations to find a wording that would enjoy the broadest possible support in the cabinet. In particular, he wants to find wording that Michael Eitan, Benny Begin and Dan Meridor - the three Likud party ministers who voted against the bill last week - can support.

But the Labor Party has already announced that it will oppose the revised bill, as has United Torah Judaism and the entire opposition, including the right-wing National Union. That leaves the coalition without enough votes to pass it.

Moreover, it is not yet clear that even Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu will support the revised version. Neither party has yet enunciated its position, but both parties' leaders - Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, respectively - voted against Neeman's proposal to require the oath of Jews and non-Jews alike when he first raised it at last week's cabinet meeting.

The revised version is likely to be particularly problematic for Shas, which, like UTJ, is an ultra-Orthodox party. UTJ MK Moshe Gafni told Haaretz on Monday that he opposes the bill, in part because of the religious objection to Jews swearing any kind of oath. That reason would presumably apply to Shas as well.

As for Yisrael Beiteinu, it is the party that initially proposed and pushed the bill. But a sizable proportion of its voters are immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and it may therefore be sensitive to the claim made by Edelstein and Elkin that the new version discriminates against immigrants.

Meanwhile, in response to the loyalty oath and other bills sponsored by Yisrael Beiteinu that allegedly discriminate against Israeli Arabs, a conference against "racist legislative initiatives" was held at the Knesset yesterday, with dozens of academics, social activists and MKs in attendance. The conference was organized by MKs Shlomo Molla (Kadima ) and Dov Khenin (Hadash ), among others.