Israeli loyalty oath for new citizens would force Arabs to be Zionists

There is a name for people who believe the Jews are entitled to a state of their own in the Land of Israel, who believe that the State of Israel is rightfully a Jewish state and should remain one. They are called “Zionists.”

The new thing in Israel is to force Arabs who live in this land to declare that they are Zionists, too.

Whether they’re Palestinians in the West Bank who want to be free of armed Israeli control, or they’re Arabs who want to marry Israeli citizens and make their lives in this country, first they have to say publicly that they’re Zionists — they have to recognize, accept, affirm that Israel is a Jewish state. Any Palestinian who wants to negotiate freedom and independence from Israel, any Arab who wants to become a citizen alongside his or her Israeli spouse, has to first raise his or her hand for the Jewish state, for the Zionist cause.

On the loyalty oath for new citizens, the government decided last week to require it only of naturalized citizens — i.e. gentiles, mainly Arabs, who marry Israelis and want to come live here. But this was so obviously unfair to Arabs, it played so badly overseas, that now the government wants to change it to require all new citizens, gentiles and Jews alike, to take the oath.

The new version is less obvious in its unfairness, but it’s still completely unfair — this time to Jews as well as Arabs. Why does anybody have to be a Zionist to become an Israeli citizen? By saying that, the government is saying about one-third of the population — including virtually all the Arabs and haredim, along with a small minority of secular Jews — don’t deserve their citizenship. They don’t belong in this country.

When supporters of the loyalty oath go on about how Israel is a democracy, I wonder what they could possibly mean. Zionism is a political ideology. Forcing people to swear loyalty to a political ideology as a condition of citizenship is about as anti-democratic as it gets.

On the demand that Palestinian negotiators recognize Israel as a Jewish state, it seems that the point of this is to close the loophole in the Palestinians’ standing recognition of Israel, which is that they can still demand the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees, which, if implemented, would spell the end of Israel.

But we’ve always insisted on the Palestinians giving up the right of return, or at least giving up the implementation of it, so why make it harder for them to reach an agreement with us — unless that’s the point of this new demand?

And that is the point of it, the whole point. It was cooked up three years ago during the Annapolis peace talks by — who else? — cabinet ministers Avigdor Lieberman and Eli Yishai for the purpose of doing what they made no secret of wanting to do — hamstringing the Annapolis peace talks. Until three years ago, no Israeli government ever demanded that any Arab entity recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a condition for peace, but Lieberman and Yishai came up with a brilliant “motherhood and apple pie” issue that no loyal, patriotic Israeli could refuse to support.

Since then, a solid consensus has formed behind this novel idea that any Arab who wants something from Israel — say, freedom or citizenship — has to first show his respect by endorsing Zionism.

To discredit this policy, it should be enough to recall that its originators were Lieberman and Yishai. But evidently, this is not enough. Millions of Jews who are wary of those two have signed on to the demand that Palestinian negotiators and prospective Israeli Arab citizens declare for Zionism.

The ironic thing is that it’s not the Arabs who are being coerced by this attempt, it’s the Jews. Arabs show no inclination ever to make any statement in favor of Israel as a Jewish state, yet Jews have fallen into line behind the spiteful, futile idea of forcing Arabs into it.

It’s Jews who’ve been coerced into taking a loyalty oath — a new one. Once they had to swear that they’d never agree to a Palestinian state, then that they’d never agree to redivide Jerusalem, now it’s that the Arabs have to become Zionists, or at least say they have.

The demands for Arab recognition of, or loyalty to, the Jewish state are expressions of the extreme national egocentrism that’s been suffocating this country. If we’re committed to keeping Israel Jewish, the Arabs have to be committed to keeping Israel Jewish, too, otherwise we can’t trust them. If we say it’s our right to build settlements, they have to say it’s our right to build settlements, otherwise we can’t trust them. If we say Jerusalem is our capital and not theirs, they have to say Jerusalem is our capital and not theirs, otherwise we can’t trust them.

This is beyond egocentric, it’s monomaniacal, autistic. I think it’s fair to expect the Arabs to tolerate a Jewish state, to agree not to try to destroy it, but we shouldn’t expect them to see the justice in it. That’s for Zionists to see, and Arabs cannot be expected to be Zionists. Unfortunately, Zionists, or at any rate most of us, are the only people in the world who refuse to understand this.

Larry Derfner is a columnist for the Jerusalem Post.