Israel has approved an amendment to its citizenship law by which those seeking to become naturalized citizens will take an oath of allegiance to Israel “as a Jewish and democratic state.” The oath doesn’t require a new Israeli citizen to be Jewish, but to acknowledge the essentially Jewish nature of the country. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explains that Israel was established as “the national state of the Jewish People, as the sovereign state of the Jewish People in its historic homeland.” The U.S. State Department reiterated yesterday that “both President Obama and Secretary Clinton are committed to Israel’s democracy as a Jewish state.”
This measure shouldn’t be controversial. Israel is the most diverse country in the Middle East, in which people of many nationalities and religions live, work and worship. The citizenship oath only makes explicit that Jewish national identity is fundamental to the Israeli state.
Recognition of Israel’s national character has been a stumbling block in the latest round of peace talks. Yesterday, Mr. Netanyahu offered a new suspension of settlement activity in return for Palestinian acceptance of Israel’s Jewish identity. The Palestinians would rather avoid the subject; a spokesman claimed “the issue of the Jewishness of the state has nothing to do with the matter.”
National identity, however, has everything to do with the matter on the Palestinian side. The preamble to the Palestinian Basic Law notes “the continuous attachment of the Arab Palestinian people to the land of their fathers and forefathers” and claims, “the organic relationship between the Palestinian people, their history and their land has confirmed itself in their unceasing effort to prompt the world to recognize the rights of the Arab Palestinian people and their national entity.” Article 1 asserts, “Palestine is part of the larger Arab world, and the Palestinian people are part of the Arab nation.” Article 4 proclaims, “Islam is the official religion in Palestine” and “the principles of Islamic Sharia shall be the main source of legislation.” Article 116 states, “laws shall be promulgated in the name of the Palestinian Arab people.”
There was predictable outrage in the region to the simple notion of recognizing the Jewishness of Israel. Without a trace of irony, Syrian strongman Bashar Assad told journalists the new oath is a “fascist” act that “proves” that Israel is a “racist country.” No one asked Mr. Assad about the section of the Syrian constitution that discusses the “Arab masses” and their “continuing battle against the forces of imperialism, Zionism and exploitation,” not to mention the Article 1 declaration that “the Syrian Arab region is a part of the Arab homeland” and its citizens are “part of the Arab nation.”
Hamas decried the oath in similar terms, overlooking the declaration in its charter that “the Islamic Resistance Movement is a distinct Palestinian Movement which owes its loyalty to Allah, derives from Islam its way of life and strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” The Hamas slogan is “Allah is its goal, the Prophet its model, the Koran its Constitution, Jihad its path and death for the case of Allah its most sublime belief.” That’s hardly a declaration of inclusiveness. If the peace process fails to yield results, it will be because of Islamist sentiments like these - not because of an Israeli citizenship oath that acknowledges the obvious.