Loyalty and states

The Israeli government is close to passing a bill that is a watered down version of one of the demands made by coalition member Yisrael Beiteinu (led by Avigdor Lieberman, Foreign Minister in the government): to establish an oath of loyalty to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic” state. The oath would apply only to non-Jews seeking citizenship in Israel.

I think the oath is wrong-headed. However, I am also persuaded that there will never be a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue if there is no formal recognition by the proto-state of the Palestinian Arabs that Israel is the state of the Jewish people. It is, as Ari Shavit put it in Haaretz, the core of the conflict, and thus the conflict can be resolved only by this formal recognition. But requiring individual would-be citizens to swear loyalty does not put us any closer to solving the conflict. It is exclusionary, and contrary to civil rights of the non-Jewish citizens of the state of Israel.

If one wants to know why recognition–not by prospective citizens, but by the prospective neighboring state–of Israel as the state of the Jewish people is a core issue, one need only look at the following statement about the proposed loyalty oath from the Palestinian Ministry of Information. The oath would be, the statement said:

An open invitation to expel the Palestinians, upon whose bodies, lands, and dreams the occupation state was built in the aftermath of the 1948 Nakba.*

It is generally assumed in the West that when Palestinian spokespersons refer to the “occupation” they mean the territories within the former British Mandate of Palestine that were seized by Israeli forces from Arab armies in the 1967 war: The West Bank and Gaza.

However, the statement could not be more clear: All of Israel is the “occupation state.” By further implication, all of what was Palestine under the British Mandate up to 1948 is still Palestine. Ipso facto, there can be no Jewish state.

The conflict will not be resolved, and the “peace talks” (if they are resumed again) will go nowhere, as long as this is the sort of interpretation put out by the Palestinian Ministry of Information.

* Transcription of the English voice-over on Mosaic TV one day during the past week. I am not sure of the original Arabic source of the broadcast, but I think it was Al Jazeera.

13 thoughts on “Loyalty and states

  1. Most American Jews support separation of church and state in the US. So why are we even contemplating support for a loyalty oath–that only non-Jews will have to take upon entering Israel–that makes them utter the words “Jewish State”?

    We understand the Palestinian leaders are afraid to say “Jewish State”, but I still strongly believe that if Israel simply negotiated with the PA and with Hamas, they’d get to the recognition of Israel as a sovereign state where the Jews are the majority and the religion is recognized as intertwined. There will be a Palestinian land, and I doubt it would say “Muslim State,” but be more inclusive on religious grounds–I do wonder if it would be an open society overall, though…

    Still, this oath law is a mistake, and designed to take our eyes off the ball of starting true negotiations for peace.


  2. Apparently there is growing interest among Israeli Jews, from across the political spectrum, in a one state solution. And by one state solution I mean the nice version with citizenship for at least West Bank Palestinians, not the one with ethnic cleansing or apartheid.

    Demographically, I think it would be possible to do this and to maintain a Jewish majority state if this were implemented in regards to the West Bank and not Gaza. The West Bank is where you have most of the Jewish settlements, which may have spread to the point where a two state solution is a practical impossibility anyway. Its also where the historical ancient Jewish kingdoms were centered (Gaza was the land of the Philistines).

    But this would mean finding some Arab country to take Gaza off of the Israeli’s hands. Maybe Syria could be persuaded to take Gaza if they also got the Golan back.

    With Israeli citizenship, access to Israeli education, particularly for the women, and property rights at least equal to the settlers, the high Palestinian birthrate may come down. It tends to be the deperately poor that have the most children.

    Terrorist attacks would be handled by the Israeli police, and army if needed, which would be operating in their own country, and would eventually incorporate Palestinian members. The Gaza would be sealed off, as it is now.

    Things such as immigration policy and the symbols of the state could be left as they are, and revised later by Knessets elected from an electorate with a higher Arab percentage.

    Also, I have written this from the Israeli perspective because one feature is that there would really be no need to wait for a negotiated settlement or the peace process. The Knesset could pass the necessary legislation this year if it wants too.

    And the South African experience is not entirely applicable, because the Knesset is already elected by proportional representation and there already Arabs who are Israeli citizens and can vote, plus Israeli Jews would not be reduced from 100% of the electorate to 11% overnight. This is really the South Africa of 1947, not the one of 1987. Something like a Truth and Reconciliation commission could be set up by later Knessets if necessary.


  3. Mitchell, a Palestinian state maybe will not be “The Islamic Republic of Palestine,” although it could be. It is likely to be “The Arab Republic of Palestine” in name and definitely in reality. The notion of “Jewish state” need not (and in my view must not) refer to religion, but to the nation of the Jews. The “core of the conflict” is precisely that the Palestinian position, as far as I can tell, remains that being Jewish is only about a religion, and not about a nation with historic rights to the land. Until those rights are recognized, I am afraid there will not be a two-state solution.

    So then we are on to possible one-state solutions, including either the “apartheid” model or the more liberal one Ed outlines. I doubt the latter is politically acceptable to either side (or desirable from a Zionist view of the long sweep of time), and the former model is dangerous for obvious reasons.


  4. I fear that requiring the neighbouring protostate to meet ideological conditions of this kind is simply a formula for continuing war.

    The Northern Ireland accords did not require the parties to abandon long-held ideological positions like ultimate Irish unity or permanent UK unity. It did require certain pragmatic commitments like abandoning violence and discrimination. It’s not all that hard to envision a pragmatic peace between Israel and Palestine. It is impossible to envisage an ideological peace. Nelson Mandela did not demand that that his opponents abandon their long-held ideological beliefs or face further war.

    And while the statement by the Palestinian ministry is certainly unfortunate, one could find equally unfortunate statements about the future of Arab citizens of Israel without searching very hard.

    There’s a cognate (if much smaller) dispute running in Australia over criminal charges that have been laid against a number of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan. Someone asked the Q & A panel last night:

    I ask this questions as a Viet Nam War Veteran. Would the Taliban prosecute their soldiers for accidentally killing women and children in war?

    The transcript will be up sometime today. The answers were along the lines that you cannot oppose the Taliban by adopting their values or abandoning the rule of law. The supreme court of Israel takes the same position.

    Human rights seem to me a much better (I do not say easier) foundation to construct a lasting peace than advocating exceptions to human rights based on the ideology of your opponent.


  5. Alan: “And while the statement by the Palestinian ministry is certainly unfortunate, one could find equally unfortunate statements about the future of Arab citizens of Israel without searching very hard.”

    From a government ministry official statement? I have not done this not-so-hard search, so I would not know.

    I do not agree with the characterization as “ideological” of the demand for recognition that Arab claims on Israel are over once there is an agreement.

    The assumption here is that Israel would be, as part of an eventual agreement, prepared to renounce its claims to those parts of the larger pre-1948 Palestine that become territory of an Arab state. It should not be too much to ask of the other side to reciprocate.


  6. Has anyone in the Israeli Cabinet thought through, for example, how defining Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state” might worsen its diplomatic relations with other Middle Eastern countries, such as the Syrian Arab Republic, the Yemen Arab Republic, and the Arab Republic of Egypt?


  7. MSS

    Some form of diplomatic quitclaim, backed by international guarantees, would have to be an integral part of any workable settlement. I do not see that as being congruent with demands that the Palestinian government not make statements about their understanding of the events of 1947. I do not want to get into quotes too much, because I would end up having to read speeches by Avigdor Lieberman, but I think you’d agree there are intemperate voices on both sides and some of them are high government officials.


  8. Lieberman is an embarrassment, and a loose cannon. But his intemperate statements since becoming Foreign Minister are not official government positions. In fact, a significant part of the Prime Minister’s job seems at times to be repudiating statements by his Foreign Minister that are at variance with government positions.

    Even Lieberman’s most intemperate statements (that I am aware of) as Foreign Minister, however, have not denied the legitimacy of the other nation to a share of the land (he favors a two-state solution). He would redraw borders to make the Arab minority a smaller portion of the remaining Israeli territorty. This is itself dangerous, if it is not part of a negotiated agreement (and perhaps even if it is). But it is not advocacy of ethnic cleansing, as some of his domestic opponents have charged. On the other hand, statements like the one from a PA department imply that the “occupier” has to be removed from the land. Intemperance is not hard to find on either side of this long conflict. But Lieberman is not an Israeli equivalent of the PA Ministry of Information.


  9. I believe I heard on Israel Radio that the bill has been amended so that all new immigrants will have to swear allegiance to a “Jewish and democratic state,” if the bill passes.

    Of course, this does not solve the basic problem, that it singles out the small number of Palestinian Arabs who apply for citizenship (mainly to marry Arab citizens of Israel). The oath has never been intended to clarify the relationship of Jews to the state, after all.


  10. I’m still for the two state solution. However, I don’t think it is right to rub a non-Jews’ face into saying “Jewish State.” That’s it. I also cannot fail to note that the timing of this is one more diversion from the NuttyYahoo administration to not seek peace with the Palestinians.


  11. Lieberman’s original proposal (from his party’s campaign manifesto) indeed called for all existing citizens to swear a loyalty oath to Israel as a Jewish state. So the process of intra-cabinet bargaining has already diluted that, currently to new immigrants. I still think it is a bad idea, but it’s worth noting the politics of it.

    And given how much we’ve (myself very much included) painted Lieberman as extreme, it is worth noting that it is his party (along with Labor) that is trying to block a law to reverse a Supreme Court ruling from this past summer that said the government could not provide such generous subsidies to ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students.

    The Israeli political scene always defies easy left-right or moderate-extreme categorization.


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