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Loyalty Oath in Israel: Reform Movement Condemns It

Israeli leaders are engaged in a discussion about a loyalty oath. Tzipi Livni, leader of the opposition and Kadima chairwoman condemned loyalty oath amendment is ‘politics at its worst‘).  Anat Hoffman, Director of the Israeli Religious Action Center (IRAC), wrote this on the recently Loyalty Oath Bill that was approved by Israel’s Cabinet:

Yesterday, IRAC as a leader in the Coalition Against Racism co-signed a press release with nearly twenty other organizations condemning the Loyalty Oath Bill that was approved by the Cabinet and will be voted on by the Knesset in the upcoming session.

We condemn the oath because we take seriously the Declaration of Independence in Israel, a document with which I identify so strongly. During the painful birth of the State of Israel, our nation’s founders signed on IRAC’s core values.

[The State of Israel] will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture…

Unfortunately, its message is an endangered species in today’s Israel.

The Israeli Cabinet announced yesterday that non-Jews wishing to become Israeli citizens must take a loyalty oath to the Jewishness of the State of Israel. This dangerous piece of legislation adds the language “as a democratic and Jewish state” to the pre-existing oath. The Jewish immigrants wouldn’t have to swear anything if this discriminatory bill makes it through the Knesset in the upcoming session.

We are told by the bill’s creators that this amendment was proposed to defend the Jewish character of Israel. But what about the democratic character of the state? There are those among Israeli society who are willing to sacrifice democracy for security, those who insist that Torah Law trumps the legitimacy of the Basic Laws. This bill was not presented in order to defend from these communities, rather it was written to affirm the dominance of the Jewish character of Israel over its other characteristics—otherwise, every Israeli would be required to say and mean this declaration.

How do I know the undemocratic spirit behind this bill? Let’s look at it in context. This bill is being approved to go to Knesset along with several other bills that promote discrimination. For example, there is a proposal to legalize committees that accept people to private communities. It’s a lot like a board that rules a condominium or a homeowners association, except that it rules an entire town and the wording is vague enough so that it would be a platform for ethnic, political and religious discrimination. Also, the same legislators proposed a bill that would legalize revoking citizenship as punishment. Served on the same plate, it is clear that the Loyalty Oath Bill is a sour scoop of racism for members of Israel’s non-Jewish communities.

I feel as though my country is breaking a promise to me. Whether this bill passes or not, it is clear that it exists purely as a message to Israel’s non-Jewish minorities, a provocative reminder of Jewish dominance. Well over one million citizens in this country are not Jewish. The Cabinet’s vote yesterday insulted the Israeli identity of all of Israel’s non-Jewish citizens, a majority of whom are Arab.

Israeli studies and research show that Arab citizens of Israel suffer discrimination by the state despite the Declaration of Independence’s guarantee for “full and equal citizenship.”
According to the Dovrat Commission, Arab schools receive only 60% of the funding per student that Jewish schools receive. Most Arab villages and cities do not have public transportation and lack basic medical services, which are often very far distances from these areas. These are just a few examples of the existing inequality in Israeli society for the Arab community.

The amendment to the Loyalty Oath would place a major hurdle in the way of the fight for equality, setting in stone the gentleman’s agreement to uphold the second-class status of Arabs in Israel. How do we expect to overcome the barriers between different fragments of Israeli society when this bill is just another brick in the wall that divides us?

The bill is not democratic in nature and it is certainly not Jewish. In a Jewish state that upholds “justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel,” we should be focusing on our values and not on dominance and imposition. In Isaiah 1:17 we read, “Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.” We as Jews have been in this place; we too have struggled as a minority. In a society of high ethnic tensions, why would we fan the flames?

A democracy that renders some citizens as second-rate is a second-rate democracy.


Anat Hoffman

The Israel Religious Action Center is a department of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism.

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