Middle East
Israel set to vote on loyalty oath
Cabinet expected to approve a controversial bill that requires non-Jews to swear loyalty to the "Jewish state"
Last Modified: 10 Oct 2010 10:24 GMT
Israelis often join Palestinian protests against unfair government policies and illegal settlement building [Reuters]

A left-leaning Israeli minister has warned of a "whiff of fascism" as the country's right-wing government appeared set to approve a bill requiring a loyalty oath from new citizens.

"There is a whiff of fascism on the margins of Israeli society," Isaac Herzog, the social affairs minister of the left-leaning Labour party, told army radio on Sunday.

"The overall picture is very disturbing and threatens the democratic character of the state of Israel," he said.

"There have been a tsunami of measures that limit rights ... I see it in the halls of the Knesset [parliament], in the commissions and departments responsible for legislation. We will pay a heavy price for this."

The bill, which will be put to a vote in cabinet on Sunday, will make all new citizens swear an oath of loyalty to Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state." The legislation has been criticised as inflammatory and racist by the Palestinians living in the country.

Al Jazeera's Mike Hanna, reporting from Jerusalem, said that while there is some opposition to the bill, it is expected to be approved.

"It is not known when this will be taken to the Israeli Knesset, but both Jews and Arabs in Israel have been vocal against it."

Targeting Palestinians

Ahmad Tibi, an Arab member of the Knesset, told Al Jazeera that the bill is aimed at Palestinians, and not newcomers to Israel, as they are already coming in on Israel's Jewish law.

"Palestinians will have to say that this country is for Jews and Palestinians are only guests. If you are saying you are democratic, you should treat citizens with equality," Tibi said.

He said that Israel was trying to impose this on the Palestinian Authority as a pre-condition for peace talks: "It is time to tell the Arab Summit to ask Israel to have equal rights for Palestinians."

"The addition to the citizenship law is entirely racist and transparent," Mohammed Barak, an Arab legislator, said.

"Israel's law books have long been a guide for some of the most discriminatory and racist regimes in the world and in history."

Dan Meridor, a Likud party member, said the law would exclude 1.5 million Palestinians who are citizens of Israel and will create a rift between them and the state.

Settlement curbs

Some commentators have suggested that the proposed bill is designed to persuade Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's ultra-nationalist foreign minister, to agree to an extension of a moratorium on new settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, are currently at an impasse due to Israel's refusal to extend the 10-month freeze.

Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is one of Netanyahu's key demands in any eventual peace deal with the Palestinians. The Palestinians have repeatedly rejected this as it would amount to an effective renunciation of the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

The ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party of Lieberman campaigned during last year's election for a tougher version of the pledge, which would apply to Arabs born in Israel and include a promise to serve in the military or perform other national service.

Yisrael Beitenu is the second largest member of the governing coalition after Netanyahu's Likud party.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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