Loyalty Oath

I am still here with less than 2 weeks to go. Our wedding anniversary is this Thursday, and Eric asked me what I wanted. I jokingly told him I wanted a baby (although I wouldn’t mind going out to eat too). Who knows, he might decide to make an early appearance and be an anniversary present.

Besides obsessing about baby (which I think is a good thing), I wanted to breach a topics which has been in the Israeli and international news: the so-called Loyalty Oath espoused by Yisrael Beiteinu.

According to yesterday’s Haaretz

“The ministerial legislative committee rejected on Sunday a bill stating that those who wish to retain Israeli citizenship would have to declare their loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state.

The bill, put forth by Yisrael Beiteinu’s MK David Rotem, stated that oath would include a pledge of loyalty to Israel as a Jewish, Zionist, and democratic state, to its emblems and values, and serving Israel either through military service or through any equivalent alternatives.”

Thank G-d.  An initiative like this would have surely backfired. Of course I have no disillusions of Israeli Arabs ever accepting the Jewish, Zionist nature of this country. I think as far as they are concerned, they could accept Israel, but only as a secular State. And the anti-Israel declarations and demonstrations following the recent wars in Lebanon and Gaza are disturbing.

But forcing them to declare loyalty to a state where they do not receive all the rights that Jewish citizens do and where they remain on the periphery of Israeli society will only increase the divide between the two peoples.

The loyalty oath episode is only the latest  response to what has been an unsolved question since the birth of Israel: how to relate to the Arab minority in the state of Israel. Well actually the 20% Arab presence constantly points to a  broader question is: can Israel remain a democratic and Zionist and Jewish state.

Even if (and at this point, that is a big if) we come to an agreement with the Palestinians on two states for two peoples, this issue would still confront Israeli society. Although establishing a Palestinian state with its own array of symbols and group preferences would make it easier to justify an Israeli state which utilizes Jewish symbols and favors the Jewish population. If we could only get to point!

We certainly haven’t shied away from this topic in my Intro to Sociology and Israeli Society classes. You can’t exactly study Israeli society without talking about this issue because it is like the elephant in the room.

Some academics will acknowledge that Arabs are second class citizens but will not totally renounce the Jewish nature of the state, arguing that more reforms could be implemented to ensure more equality and less racism. Law professor and Israel Democracy Institute Fellow Ruth Gavison takes the middle road, claiming that it is possible for Israel to remain Jewish and democratic at the same time, as long as you are flexible in defining both terms. For example, a state based on Jewish Halacha would not work, but perhaps a Jewish state as defined by a majority of its citizens being Jewish could be a better definitition. She also argues that different parts of civil society need to engage in active dialogue and negotiation to reach an arrangement that is better for all parties. To me this sounds quite challenging.

Others in the academic and activist worlds and people that I know just give up on the whole endeavor and call for a bi-national state. From their perspective you could argue, how can you justify treating 20% of your population differently? Isn’t it just easier to turn Israel into a secular democracy like Europe? And if that Arab minority increases where it represents 50% of the population, you are creating a de facto apartheid state, aren’t you? (yes the ‘a’ word) What’s the point of holding onto Zionist ideals that are particularistic and outdated when peace could finally be achieved?

Well I do have some issues with this place becoming a binational state. I’m not ready to throw everything that we’ve worked for down the drain. There was a reason why people wanted and needed a Jewish state. Because of the Holocaust (yes here I go with the Holocaust), we were essentially kicked out of Europe. And the countries not involved in the massive slaughter of our people–including the U.S.–essentially turned their backs on the refugees. (I should note that people in my family were able to come to the U.S. which is why I am alive today) And the only place that unflinchingly opened its arms to Jews was Israel.

Admittedly, the situation for Jews in Europe has improved drastically, and the thriving Jewish community in the U.S. questions the logic behind the fact that ‘Israel is the only place where Jews can live and prosper freely.’ Although it’s not the case that people have stopped hating us, and there are still countries where you just don’t want to live as a Jew.

But it’s not just about the Holocaust. To me, Israel represented and still does, the ability of our people to take our destiny into our own hands and not be subject to the whims of world leaders. (okay, so it’s not like Israel is totally independent of international pressure, but it is still different than the past). We have the freedom to make important decisions about running a country, which is a much different ball game than serving in the government of another country. Of course this means we have the freedom to screw things up, and this country seems hell bent on screwing everything up. If you really want to understand what I am talking about read up on the history of Zionism.

So for me, going binational means giving up our sovereignty not to mention the historic connection to this place. And if we end up in a state where we are the minority under Arab rule (a state that would then include the West Bank and Gaza) then it would be just like old times, where we are again subjects and not agents of our destiny.

Does this make me a jingoistic, nationalistic, chauvinistic person? I don’t want to withold rights from Arabs living in this country nor disavow their own connections to this place. And I do really want to live in peace with them. The binational state idea does appeal to me in the sense that Jews and Arabs would be on equal ground for once and we both would be able to live in a land we both claim as our own.

I just don’t know if it could work. Binationalism assumes that our two peoples would be able to coexist peacefully and work out some sort of power sharing arrangement. There are too many people on both sides that would be happy to sabotage the process of creating a secular, democratic state. And both sides know far too little about the other to be able to overcome mistrust and reach a state of happy coexistence.

So where does that leave me and is there a solution? I really don’t know.


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