While I’ve been running around the past few days, the talk of the Israeli left has been the new loyalty oath bill approved by the Israeli cabinet that would require non-Jews seeking Israeli citizenship to swear loyalty to the concept of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. The concrete impact here is to make it more difficult for non-citizen Arab spouses of Arabs with Israeli citizenship to obtain citizenship. In practice, of course, anyone genuinely committed to some kind of stealth jihad strategy here is simply free to lie—such an oath inherently lacks credibility—and the real impact here is a symbolic gesture of illiberalism and formalized discrimination against Israeli Arabs. Part of the background to this is not just policy, but intra-coalition political machinations spearheaded initially by far-right leader Avigdor Lieberman who is, as Jeffrey Goldberg says, “doing everything in his power to alienate Israel’s friends, and to make Israel appear to be a country run by idiots.”
I spoke to a leftwing Israeli who attended the rally in Tel Aviv against the bill earlier today and he said it had the atmosphere of a funeral for liberal Zionism.
To try to offer some added-value from the ground I’ll note that relations between Arab Israelis and the Israeli state are not exactly the lovefest that was described to me in Hebrew school ‘lo those many years ago. A leader of an Arab Israeli human rights organization told us several days ago that he found the Knesset debate over the loyalty oath to be bizarre. After all, Israel’s nature as a Jewish state is entrenched in the country’s basic law and its symbols of national identity. And why shouldn’t immigrants be made to swear fealty to the de facto constitution? The reason given is that it’s an insult to the Arab Israelis. But if Jewish Israelis deem it unfair to Arab Israelis to make them swear allegiance to the constitutional definition of Israel as a Jewish state then why isn’t it also unfair to Arab Israelis to have the definition there in the constitution in the first place?
Long story short, there are many countries in the world faced with tensions between liberalism, nationalism, and democracy and Israel’s had an unusually severe case of the disease for a while now and at the moment liberalism is losing out quite badly.