Jerusalem: Israel`s hawkish Premier Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking changes to the citizenship law that would require aspiring citizens to declare loyalty to the country as "a Jewish and democratic state", a move that has drawn sharp criticism from the Israeli-Arabs and Left.
Netanyahu, in the much-debated move last evening, decided to ask his ministers to mull over and approve an amendment to the Citizenship Act, mandating that all aspiring citizens would be required to pledge their allegiance not only to Israel but also to a "Jewish, democratic state", endorsing a similar proposal by Justice Minister Yaakov Ne`eman and ultra-nationalist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
"Israel is the Jewish people`s homeland," the Prime Minister said adding, "It is so in its essence, in its government, its symbols, holidays and language, and that should be reflected by its Citizenship Act".
"Israel is a democratic country that extends full civil equality to all its citizens. This principle has always guided government policies, both domestic and foreign, and is a cornerstone of Israeli legislation," he said.
This principle is expressed in the term `Jewish and democratic` and will be included in the pledge of allegiance taken by those wishing to become citizens," he argued.
The Prime Minister`s Office tried to allay fears that the decision would impact fragile peace talks with the Palestinians saying Israel`s first prerequisite in the negotiations is for recognition of the country as a Jewish state.
The Israeli Left, specially the Labour party that is supporting Netanyahu`s overwhelmingly right-wing dominated coalition, however, was caught unaware on the move and has condemned the decision.
Minister of Minority Affairs, Avishay Braverman of the Labour party, slammed the proposal calling it irresponsible and one that would isolate Israel.
"This is an infuriating, irresponsible decision which will only fuel the fires of delegitimisation against Israel worldwide. This decision will bear no benefits for Israel. All it does is sent a negative message to Arab citizens," Braverman said.
However, Lieberman`s Yisrael Beteinu party welcomed the decision saying it will fulfil a promise made to it in its coalition agreement.
"Every citizen is obligated to preserve Israel and a Jewish and democratic state, and all the more so when one aspires to become an Israeli citizen. This is a vital, basic need, especially when there are those who wish to undermine it," the party said in a statement. Former Jewish Agency chairman and opposition Kadima party lawmaker, Zeev Bielski, dubbed Netanyahu`s decision as "insulting, harmful and not enough to cement Israel`s status as a Jewish democratic state”.
Bielski added that the amendment "will cause more harm than good, and stems from the need to please radical coalition elements”.
Left wing Meretz party Chairman, Haim Oron, criticised the proposed amendment, saying "it seems the Citizenship Act was drafted in Lieberman`s image. The act portrays a xenophobic, anxious, anti-civilian Israel”.
"It is a shame that the government ignores our tragic history as Jews...," Oron said.
Arab lawmakers described the move as discriminatory that would reinforce the "inferior" status of the minorities in Israel.
"To force citizens to pledge allegiance to a Jewish Israel is a political decision rather that one of leadership. It is meant to cement the Arabs` inferior class status by law. No amendment will be able to negate the Palestinian narrative, which has been recognised worldwide," said Arab parliamentarian Ahmed Tibi.
"Netanyahu has decided to single-handedly open racist legislation season. The amendment is racist, and it will likely get the majority it needs via the two `best men` Lieberman and (Defence Minister Ehud) Barak. We`ve long been saying that the Israel law has become the guide to the world`s most sinister regimes," said Hadash chairman Mohammad Barakeh.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has also strongly condemned the legislation.
The proposal was "fundamentally undemocratic, it discriminates between would-be citizens on the basis of religion, and demands an ethnic minority to commit to a principle which anchors the discrimination against it," it said.
But the right wing lawmakers welcomed the move congratulating the hawkish Israeli Premier and extending full support on the issue.
The loyalty oath will however not apply to new immigrants (Jews) coming into the country under the Law of Return, nor will it apply to people who already have citizenship.
In other words, this is not the loyalty oath Lieberman campaigned for during his elections, whereby Arab citizens would have to pledge allegiance to Israel as a Jewish state.