Israel’s cabinet on Sunday voted 22-8 in favor of an amendment to Israel’s Citizenship Law that would require those seeking to become Israeli to pledge loyalty to “the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”
Israel currently has two legal avenues by which someone can become a citizen. The first is under the Law of Return, and only applies to Jews and their descendants, who are granted automatic citizenship in Israel if they desire it. The second it the Citizenship Law, which applies to all non-Jews seeking legal status in Israel.
The proposed amendment, if it passes a series of Knesset votes, will apply only to the Citizenship Law, and as such is specifically targeting those who marry local Israeli Arabs and thus gain access to citizenship. Because of that, it has caused an uproar among many of Israel’s Arab citizens and some of its Jewish residents.
Israel Arab Knesset member Ahmad Tibi, a former advisor to Yasser Arafat who identifies himself as a “Palestinian,” called the proposed amendment another example of what he claims is Israel’s racist attitude toward its Arab minority.
A number of leading Jewish politicians said that while the amendment makes sense, it was not wise to actually put it into practice and further divide Jews from Arabs, while giving the international community more ammunition in its efforts to delegitimize Israel.
But the amendment’s sponsor, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, insisted that it is very necessary considering the growing phenomenon of Israel’s Arabs openly identifying with the country’s enemies.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backed up Lieberman’s position, and stressed the need for not only those wishing to become Israelis, but for the whole world to understand what Israel is.
“The State of Israel is the national state of the Jewish people, and it is a democratic state for all its citizenship. Jews and non-Jews enjoy equality and full rights,” Netanyahu told his cabinet. “Unfortunately, there are many today who tried to blur not only the unique connection of the Jewish people to its homeland, but also the connection of the Jewish people to its state.
“There is no other democracy in the Middle East. There is no other Jewish state in the world. The combination of these two lofty values expresses the foundation of our national life and anyone who would like to join us needs to recognize this.”