Israel's Proposed Oath: A Big Mistake
It goes without saying that everyone – whatever our political position – would love to see a just peace in the Middle East. And we would love Israelis and Palestinians to move in the direction of helping that peace come about. In reading the Forward www.Forward.com (see direct links below) during the past two weeks (the Jewish weekly newspaper that has been around since 1897 and originated as a Yiddish paper –it’s always engrossing and interesting), I’ve been dismayed by articles about the loyalty oath that has been brought to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, and that may be adopted as law in Israel.
New citizens in any country are generally asked to swear an oath of allegiance to their new home, but if this law is passed in Israel, it will add something to the oath that is currently being used. The oath that new citizens in Israel have been taking states, “I will be a loyal national of the State of Israel.” The addition would be “as a Jewish and democratic state, and I promise to honor the laws of the state.” I find this troubling.
First, it is dishonest. Israel is not able to be both a Jewish state and a fully democratic state. No state can be fully democratic if there are some who are not equal members of the state. Many of us who have supported Israel in our lives are aware of this “inherent contradiction” (as the Forward describes it,) and are prepared to support a Jewish state, whether or not it can ever be fully democratic. Others of us would like to see the state be reconstructed as a true democracy, knowing that it would no longer be a Jewish state. Whatever we would like to see, we know that Israel cannot be both: fully Jewish and fully democratic.
Second, the question that is debated in the Forward is the definition of the term “Jewish”. What does it mean? Is Judaism a religion, a culture, a way of life, a set of shared values? Is it more than that? Depending on who one asks, one gets a different answer, which makes this oath confusing. What does it really mean to be a Jewish state? What is one swearing allegiance to? As a Reconstructionist, I see Judaism as Mordecai Kaplan did, as “an evolving religious civilization”, including religion, culture, language, history and values. Swearing allegiance to this in Israel would be complicated for me since in many ways, the Jewish law that is enacted in Israel violates my understanding of an evolving Jewish way of life. How much more confusing would this be for someone who is not Jewish to say this oath with any true understanding of what it means!
Those are reasons why I think the oath is not helpful or even coherent, but they are not the main reason that I find it upsetting. Asking an Arab who is moving to Israel now to take this oath would be akin to punching him/her in the stomach. We don’t know the future of Israel; we don’t know if there will ultimately be two states, one Jewish and one Palestinian. We don’t know whether there will be one democratic state that respects a range of citizenry. We know that right now, there is no equality for Palestinians in Israel. We know that in Gaza, people are having their rights stripped away and are denied their basic needs. Being forced to swear allegiance to a state that is “Jewish and democratic” when much of its behavior is neither, when one’s relatives could be seriously mistreated in the name of that state, would be an act of cruelty to any Arab who was becoming a citizen of Israel.
There has been opposition to this oath from all sides of the community in Israel, and I am not surprised. This is a serious mistake for Israel, and I sincerely hope that this new oath will not be passed into law. It is yet another impediment to moving toward peace by the current Israeli government.