Last night, 10 October 2010, the Israeli government approved a new amendment to the Citizenship Law which would require all non-Jews seeking citizenship via the naturalization process to declare an oath of loyalty to Israel as a 'Jewish and democratic state.' Twenty-two ministers voted in favor of the new amendment, including most of the Likud, Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu. Eight ministers voted against, five from the Labor Party and three - Benny Begin, Dan Meridor and Michael Eitan - from the Likud.
Commenting on the government's approval of the loyalty oath bill, Adalah's General Director, Attorney Hassan Jabareen stated that while many democratic states around the world have loyalty oaths, this bill differs in that it forces Arab citizens of Israel to accept their inferiority, inequality and exclusion, as it deems the state as one for Jews only, and serving the Jewish people alone. Attorney Jabareen further warned that the approval of this loyalty oath may serve as a slippery slope, as declarations of allegiance to a Jewish and democratic state may soon be required from all newly elected ministers, members of Knesset, workers in the Israeli civil service and/or required when trying to obtain an Israeli identity card or passport, etc. Attorney Jabareen further noted that the approval of this new bill by the government in the context of the ongoing peace process only proves that any peace negotiation must also include the historical claims and the citizenship rights of Arab citizens of Israel.
In the run-up to the Cabinet's debate on the bill, on 7 October 2010, Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher sent a letter urgent letter to the Prime Minister, the Attorney General, and the Justice Minister demanding that they rescind the proposed amendment on the grounds that mandating an oath of loyalty unfairly infringes upon on the right of freedom of expression. Adalah argued that the loyalty oath bill specifically targets Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, whose "non-Jewish" spouses - Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and other Arab states – are the ones who would be forced to swear an oath to Israel as a "Jewish and democratic State". The loyalty oath imposes a political ideology to accept Jewish and Zionist values, which in turn, thus serves to negate the national and political identity of Palestinians and/or Arabs, Attorney Zaher argued in the letter.
This new amendment is but one link in a long chain of Israeli government policies targeting Arab citizens of Israel and their spouses from the OPT, a main example of which is the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law of 2003, which bans family unification.
The rights of Arab citizens of Israel, a national minority, to freedom of thought and political expression are enshrined in international human rights law such as the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. The principles contained in these laws reinforce the rights of all individuals, and more specifically national minorities, to their own identity, as well as protecting national minorities from the imposition of the views of the majority on them.