The Israeli Cabinet has approved an amendment to a citizenship law that requires new citizens to declare their loyalty to a "Jewish and democratic state," the prime minister's office said Sunday.
The new oath would apply only to non-Jewish immigrants - not to immigrants coming to Israel under what is called the "Law of Return" that allows converted Jews and people with Jewish ancestry the right to settle in Israel and acquire citizenship.
A statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office confirmed the vote, saying 22 ministers voted for the change and eight voted against it. Now that the proposal has passed the Cabinet, it will be taken up by Israel's parliament, the Knesset, for passage into law.
Before his government's weekly Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu made a forceful plea Sunday for changing the nation's Citizenship Law. He challenged criticism that the revision is undemocratic and could harm relations with the minority Arab population.
Netanyahu cited the nation's Declaration of Independence, which says Israel is both the "national state of the Jewish people" and a democratic state "in which all its citizens -- Jewish and non-Jewish -- enjoy fully equal rights."
He noted that Israel was the only democracy in the Middle East, and that "there is no other Jewish state in the world."
Before the vote, Arab Knesset member Hanin Zoabi said that Israel is "discriminative in its policies and laws against all who are not Zionists." Zoabi went on to say the law "not only discriminates between Jews and non Jews, it also discriminates between Zionist Jews and non Zionist Jews."
Another Arab Knesset member Ahmed Tibi, from the Ra'am-Ta'al party, criticized the move as well, saying that "the values of Jewish and Democratic cannot be in the same definition because democracy is the equality of all the citizens. But an ethnic definition as Jewish is the preference of the Jew over that of the Arab and therefore it fixates an inferior status to 20 percent of the population," Tibi said.
At the same time, Netanyahu offered to extend the moratorium on West Bank settlement construction if the Palestinian leaders would recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
This was an attempt to end an impasse over settlement construction that has stalled Mideast peace talks just a month after they were launched at the White House. But with its tough conditions, it was swiftly rejected by the Palestinians.
The Palestinians refuse to accept Israel as a Jewish state, saying it discriminates against Israel's Arab minority and violates the rights of millions of Palestinian refugees scattered around the world. Instead, they say it is sufficient that they recognize Israel's right to exist.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Netanyahu of "playing games" and said he saw no connection between Jewish settlements and Israel's national character.
"I don't see a relevance between his obligations under international law and him trying to define the nature of Israel," he said. "I hope he will stop playing these games and will start the peace process by stopping settlements."
Netanyahu has been under heavy international pressure to renew a just-expired 10-month slowdown on West Bank settlement construction. The Palestinians say they will walk away from the talks if the curbs do not remain in place. The moratorium expired on September 26.
Netanyahu has repeatedly made similar demands in the past, though he has never explicitly linked it to the settlement issue.
The right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, also a member of the coalition government, welcomed the proposed oath for new immigrants, and denied it had anything to do with a possible extension of the settlement freeze.
"It is definitely not connected to the settlement freeze," said David Rotem, a Knesset member for the party. "We have been talking about passing this law even before the elections and it is part of our coalition agreement."
Before the changes were approved by the Cabinet, Rotem told CNN the oath was "very similar to the citizenship law in the United States, England, Australia, France and many other countries who all demand a declaration of loyalty."
But Mark Regev, a spokesman for Netanyahu, stated openly that there was a connection: "What we are asking others to accept we have to demand of ourselves."
This is nothing but a slick move by Netanyahu to make himself look good in the world's eyes while avoiding confrontation with the pro-settler elements in his government. He knows well that the Palestinians can never agree to recognize the Zionist state as "Jewish" because that would be giving up the right of return for the Palestinians displaced in 1948. (Of course, the return of those refugees is unthinkable for the Zionists because they would upset the demographic dominance of Jews, making it impossible for their state to remain both Jewish and democratic.) Netanyahu knew that the Palestinians would reject the offer and then construction could begin anew in the West Bank settlements, with the Palestinians appearing to be the ones uninterested in peace.
At the same time, Netanyahu and his cabinet are attempting to stem the tide of non-Jewish immigration that threatens the Jewish makeup of the state by requiring every immigrant to swear loyalty to the "Jewish" state.
Interestingly, the oath will not be imposed on Jewish immigrants. Apparently it is assumed that all Jews would recognize the Zionist state as Jewish. But this is a tremendous error.
Ever since the Zionist movement arose and called for a Jewish state, the vast majority of Orthodox Jewish rabbis and their followers looked at the idea as a deviation from true Judaism. Jews have always waited for G-d's redemption, which will come at the time G-d sees fit, dependent on whether Jews keep G-d's laws. Every Sabbath morning, Jews pray, "There is none besides You, our Redeemer, in the days of the messiah." Until then, Jews are commanded to remain without a state, as loyal citizens of non-Jewish countries. Therefore today's Zionist state, which violates that command, cannot call itself a Jewish state.
Netanyahu says everyone should recognize his state as Jewish because "there is no other Jewish state in the world." Actually, the fact that there is no other Jewish state is the greatest proof that it is un-Jewish to have a state. Throughout their 2000-year-long exile, Jews have had many opportunities to found their own state, but they voluntarily refrained from doing so, knowing that G-d foreswore them to wait for His redemption, via the messiah.
The Talmud relates that G-d made the Jewish people swear never to take over the Holy Land, never to fight wars against the other nations, and never to attempt to end their exile by force. How ridiculous it is that the Zionists ignore G-d's oaths and then attempt to bolster their position by creating an oath of their own, stating that their violation of G-d's oaths is "Jewish"!
But it is not only ridiculous; it is dangerous. A state calling itself Jewish endangers Jews worldwide, because Jews are held accountable for whatever the so-called Jewish state does.
Therefore we state unequivocally:
1) Netanyahu, you have no right to ask anyone - Jew or non-Jew - to recognize your state as a Jewish state, since its entire existence violates the Jewish religion. We protest and condemn the use of OUR name for YOUR state.
2) Currently, the Zionist state has a majority Jewish population and therefore is subject to the Torah's prohibition on Jews founding a state. We, as Torah-observant Jews, cannot support the continuation of this demographic situation. To comply with Jewish law, either the balance of population must change, or else the Jewish population must relinquish their political power.