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Israelís Loyalty Oath: Letís Drink to New Jewish Republic
Richard Silverstein
Tikkun Olam

It seems a virtual certainly that sometime in the coming weeks Israelís rightist government will pass a law requiring new citizens to affirm Israel as a Jewish state. As currently formulated the law would only require such an oath of non-Jewish citizens, which would effectively bar most non-Jews, especially Muslims or Arabs, from becoming citizens. As such, the law would be racist on its face and likely rejected by the Israeli Supreme Court. Bibi Netanyahu is calling for amending the bill so that it includes all new citizens including Jews, hoping that this will pass muster with any justices who may have quibbles over the lawís diminution of democratic values.

As one of my commentators with whom I rarely agree wrote: itís an answer to a question no one is asking. There are very few non-Jews seeking to become citizens of Israel. So the oath is a political provocation by Avigdor Lieberman meant to gin up hysteria and support among his far-right nationalist base. As Iíve written here, the only reason this bill will become law is as a quid pro quo from Bibi to his farther right allies hoping to retain their support when and if he extends a settlement freeze.

One of the very strange outcomes of this law may be to deny Israeli citizenship to Jews. Since few Arabs seek to become citizens and mainly Jews do, it is the Haredi Jews who seek citizenship who would be barred from it, since they refuse to acknowledge that Israel is a Jewish state in pure halachic terms. Wouldnít that be a delicious irony? Iím guessing that the State will find a way to create an exemption for the ultra Orthodox allowing them to circumvent the entire oath process, just as it does to exempt their children from military service (though on different grounds).

Aux armes, citoyens! My interest tonight is strategizing how the progressive left should respond to the eventuality of the passage of this bill. Two days ago, Israelis held a large rally denouncing the loyalty oath. A good start. But I think we should prepare for a longer term campaign against this racist law. We should prepare a series of acts of resistance. For example, I can see a rally on the day the law is passed with a mass of Israelis proclaiming en masse an alternate oath affirming Israel as a state of all its citizens regardless of religion or ethnicity. Iíd love to see an oleh chadash (new immigrant) leading such an oath-taking as a symbolic but powerful protest.

I would begin asking American Jews to withhold whatever portion of their UJA contributions are designated for Israel. Jewish leaders tend to avoid and ignore issues unless there are financial ramifications that harm fundraising campaigns or cause deep embarrassment. This issue could cause both.

We must also continue to point out that such a law will reinforce a slogan that hasnít been widely heard since the 1970s when the UN General Assembly passed a ďZionism is racismĒ resolution. At the time, many of us disagreed strongly with such sentiment. But can we honestly do so now? Yes, there are those of us who can argue that Zionism as we express and define it is different than what passes for Zionism in arch nationalist right-wing circles in Israel. But that may be too much subtlety for the world to bear when it sees an Israeli government prepared to use a sledge-hammer domestically and on the world stage to define itself and its interests.

At another earlier protest, an Israeli professor likened this bill to the 1935 Nuremberg Race Laws which set the stage for the Holocaust:

Israeli educational psychologist Prof. Gavriel Solomon said that ďthe idea of Judenrein or Arab-rein is not newÖ Some might say Ďhow can you compare us to Nazisí. I am not talking about the death camps, but about the year 1935. There were no camps yet but there were racist laws. And we are heading forward towards these kinds of laws. The government is clearly declaring our incapacity for democracy.Ē

A state which needs such oaths is a state unsure of its own identity, lacking self-confidence, perhaps sensing unconscious guilt at the injustices that lie at its foundation. It signifies a state at war with itself. That is why you donít see firmly established democracies like the U.S., Britain, Germany, France racing to affirm their identities as Christian nations. These are countries more or less comfortable in their own skins.

When it affirms this oath as law it will cease being Israel and become the Jewish Republic, as Gideon Levy writes. And let us be very clear, they are not the same thing. Jewish citizens should no longer be called Israelis, but rather Judeans. At that point, Judea or whatever you want to call it might just as well have a king as a Knesset. Letís call him Yvette I, shall we? Letís rebuild the Temple and install Moshe Feiglin as High Priest. King Yvette can reign from Jerusalem and have his winter palace at Nokdim (the settlement he calls home), just as Herod built his at the fateful Masada.

Itís at this point I seek to join the party of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai, who, according to a legend some claim to be apocryphal, could see the handwriting on the wall during the Roman siege against Jerusalem. He escaped the city in a coffin during a period of plague, negotiated with the Roman general conducting the siege, who allowed him to flee to a little town called Yavneh. There he established a rabbinic academy that sought to come to terms with the trauma of the destruction of the Second Temple, and hence laid the groundwork for the survival of the Jewish people as they scattered to the Diaspora.

In other words, Lieberman and even Bibi are sowing the seeds of Israelís destruction. Itís really plain and simple (but also horrible). If you are prepared for this to happen you will stand and watch. If not, you will do something to object, to resist.

We should remind Israeli and Diaspora Jewish leaders that the specter of BDS hovers over ever such Israeli act and strengthens the movement. This reinforces the notion that Israel is its own worst enemy, and that all its opponents need to do is sit back and watch as Israel virtually destroys any credibility or sympathy it may retain on the world stage. Indeed, such laws perfectly illustrate the Midrash which states that the Holy Temple was destroyed due to the sinat hinam (senseless hatred) of two brothers for each other. Today, weíre looking at an Israel which destroys itself inch by inch while the rest of us (or at least some of us) look on in horror and disbelief.

To conclude, let us all say no to a state that defines itself solely in religious terms; to a state that affirms that Judaism is its dominant religion; to a state that subordinates democracy to religion; to a state that is Jewish to the exclusion of all else and all others. Ours is a vision of an Israel that affirms and values the religions of all its citizens; that offers equal rights to all citizens; that embraces all ethnicities while derogating none (including Judaism, lest dyed-in-the-wool Zionists claim that this means the death of Israel or Zionism).

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