Watch: As Israel Slides Toward Fascism, Citizens and Supporters Swear Their Loyalty
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The Israeli Knesset is debating a bill proposed by David Rotem of the extreme right Yisrael Beiteinu party that would require all Israeli citizens to swear loyalty to Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state." This bill is targeted at increasing pressure on the 20 percent of Israelis who are Palestinian citizens, while forcing the ultra-Orthodox Jewish minority who reject the legitimacy of any state not based on Jewish biblical law to accept Zionism. If passed in its proposed form, citizens unwilling to take the loyalty oath would be at risk of losing citizenship.
Israeli leaders committed to a classic secular political Zionist platform have always fought at all costs to guard Israel's "Jewish character," even while they reveal their inability to properly define exactly what it is. The loyalty oath and the push for a two-state solution are the most profound examples of the insecurity that has roiled beneath the surface in Jewish Israeli society since the state's inception. Without a Jewish majority exhibiting clear legal and political dominance over the non-Jewish or non-Zionist minority, the Zionist movement becomes meaningless. So as the Palestinian-Israeli minority actively resists its dispossession and the ultra-Orthodox stubbornly reject the concept of a Jewish state, the Israeli establishment feels increasingly compelled to seek draconian measures to salvage its vision of Zionism.
Watch the video: Feeling the Loyalty to the Jewish State of Israel -- (article continues below)
The loyalty oath was one of the main platform issues for Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's far-right Yisrael Beitenu party when it campaigned in 2009. "No citizenship without loyalty," was among Lieberman's most effective campaign slogans. (His other slogan was "Only Lieberman speaks Arabic.") It helped guide his party to an astonishing third place, with 15 of the 120 seats in Israeli Parliament. The draft bill currently debated in the Parliament would allow the Interior Ministry to strip even native Israelis of their nationality if they refused to swear allegiance to the Jewish state and "its symbols and values," and failed to profess their willingness to perform military service. Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, has expressed support for Yisrael Beiteinu's loyalty crusade.
After the proposed law failed its first reading in the Knesset due to opposition from a handful of liberal members of the ruling Likud party, Yisrael Beiteinu released the following statement: "Yisrael Beitenu will continue to act for Israel's basis as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state and will fight against disloyalty and the negative exploitation of Israeli democracy." In July, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet has approved a similar bill requiring all new citizens to take an oath of loyalty to the Jewish state. The measure would make attaining citizenship nearly impossible for Palestinians residing inside Israel.
The following month, we met the loyalty bill's author, David Rotem, at his home in the illegal West Bank settlement of Efrat. A self-described "very Zionistic" politician with a hulking frame and a pronounced limp resulting from a bout of polio, Rotem described in a gravely voice his vision of Israeli democracy. "Tyranny of the majority is the heart of democracy," he declared. "Call it what you want but democracy is the rule of the majority. And it's not a tyranny if the majority decides against the minorities."
Besides the loyalty oath bill, political factions ranging from far-right settler parties to opposition leader Tzipi Livni's centrist Kadima Party have proposed no less than 14 pieces of legislation this year that the Association for Civil Rights in Israel defines as anti-democratic. (Rotem is the author of six of the bills.) They include laws that would send citizens to jail for encouraging the rejection of Israel as a Jewish state, strip filmmakers of state funding if their work was deemed anti-Israel, and prosecute any Israeli who publishes material calling for a boycott of Israel. Other lesser-publicized bills have been introduced to block Palestinian residents of Israel from returning to confiscated land or reuniting with family members from the West Bank or Gaza.