Jerusalem: Israel`s mainly right-wing government voted overwhelmingly on Sunday in favour of controversial legislation requiring non-Jewish new citizens to swear allegiance to the country as a Jewish state.
The measure has been widely condemned as racist by Israel`s Arab minority but appeared designed to placate hardline ministers ahead of a decision to extend a settlement moratorium seen as key to US-backed peace efforts with the Palestinians.
The 30-member coalition cabinet endorsed a draft amendment by 22-8, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu`s office said. It still has to be approved by Parliament before becoming law.
"According to the amendment ... `Jewish and democratic state` will be added at the end of the pledge of allegiance," the statement said.
Israeli media said that all five ministers from the left-leaning Labour party voted against the proposal, as did three members of Netanyahu`s own Likud.
The amendment had been toned down from an original proposal by the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, which would have required even Arabs born in Israel to make the pledge and promise to serve in the military or perform other national service.
But it has still been criticised as inflammatory and racist by the country`s Arab minority, and one Labour minister said ahead of the vote that it took the country to "the edge of a chasm”.
"There is a whiff of fascism on the margins of Israeli society," Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog told Army radio.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni said the move was "politics at its worst”.
"The sensitive issue of Israel`s existence as a Jewish and democratic state has become subject to political horse-trading," she said at a conference.
Netanyahu said the proposed pledge was in keeping with the words and spirit of the Jewish state`s founders.
"There is no other democracy in the Middle East. There is no other Jewish state in the world," the Premier added.
"The combination of these two lofty values expresses the foundation of our national life and anyone who would like to join us needs to recognise this."
The amendment has been denounced within Israel`s Arab community, which makes up about 20 percent of the population, as targeting Palestinians seeking citizenship after marrying Israeli-Arab citizens.