Posted by: sean | October 12, 2010

On the loyalty oath and western values

The Israeli Knesset cabinet passed a law on Sunday requiring non-Jews naturalizing as Israeli citizens to swear an oath of allegiance to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state.” The law will not apply to Jews, who automatically qualify for immediate Israeli citizenship.

It’s worth recalling, however, that the law will not apply to most Palestinian citizens of Israel (20 percent of the state’s citizens ) who marry other Palestinians, from Gaza or the West Bank, for instance, because there is already a law that bars the latter from acquiring Israeli citizenship or even residency in Israel. What this means is that if you are an Arab citizen of Israel who wants to marry someone from Ramallah or Rafah, your spouse will not be allowed to get Israeli citizenship or even residency. On the other hand, if you are a Jewish Israeli who marries a Jew without Israeli citizenship, your spouse would immediately get Israeli citizenship upon arrival based solely on his or her religion.

Really, this new law would only affect the non-Jewish and non-Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens, that is to say a European Christian, for example, who wanted to marry an Israeli. First, if the couple aren’t the same religion, they would have to get married outside of the country, since only religious marriages are allowed in Israel. Then the non-Jewish spouse would have to swear an oath of allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic country.

So it’s  important that  this new oath be taken within the context of Israeli citizenship laws and Israeli concepts of citizenship. It merely makes more explicit the state’s ideology, which is to say, ethno-religious nationalism. If this notion seems distasteful to Americans, it’s because with the exception of ultra-nationalist nativist groups, the West has largely rejected ethnic and religious notions of citizenship. In other words, Israel and America do not share the same values when it comes to who is a citizen.

The US Bill of Rights, for example, explicitly states in the First Amendment that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The Fourteenth Amendment also states in the equal protection clause,

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

So not only would this new oath not past constitutional muster, clearly violating the equal protection clause, neither would Israel’s citizenship laws in general.

That said, I support Israel’s decision to implement this loyalty oath, not because it’s right, but rather because I think it helps illustrate the distasteful ideology on which Israel, as an officially Jewish state, is based — the idea that the state belongs to a single ethno-religious group first and foremost. Through the civil rights movement and by its very constitution, the United States has (imperfectly, to be sure) illustrated that as a country it rejects the values that led to such horrors in Europe in the first half of the 20th century.

Sadly, though, Zionists seem to have drawn the exact opposite lesson from European ethnic nationalism — not that ethnic  nationalism is a bad thing, but that Jews should have their own form of it. If this makes Americans and Europeans uncomfortable, it should, because as history has shown us, if ethno-religious nationalism is problematic in more or less homogeneous societies, it is even more so in a mixed society.



  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Alexander Lobov, Siad Darwish. Siad Darwish said: Human Province on 'On the loyalty oath and western values': […]

  2. Sean,
    It passed the cabinet, not the knesset. It will take a while for that and I think at least Barak’s changes will be introduced. There will also be a challenge in the supreme court.

  3. AIG: Right you are. I’ll make that correction now. The larger analysis, though, remains the same. By the by, Ahmadinejad is in town today, any messages you’d like me to deliver? ;)

  4. Sean,

    If Israel were in Europe, the law would be distasteful. However, we are in the middle east and given what is going around us it is a slight blemish on Israel’s democracy. You are an idealist and a purist which is fine, but most people make their decisions based on comparisons. And compared to our neighbors we could make slavery lawful and still be considered more democratic. (I may be exaggerating a little…)

    Please tell Ahmadinejad to visit more often. We need cool heads in our region.

  5. I’m not sure what makes Israel such a consistent focus of your posts. It’s certainly not the most egregious human rights offender, either in the neighborhood or beyond. I can only assume that given your adoption of Arab culture, you have also adopted Arab hatreds, with only the faintest of criticisms of that culture, whose offenses dwarf Israel’s. Aside from being the Jewish state, what else sets Israel so apart as to I can’t imagine you saying of any other country, that you are happy that they passed a law you find distasteful, because it helps you to stew in your hatred. For Israel to share most of America’s values, does not mean that they must share the same laws and constitution, since the two countries exist under entirely different circumstances. And to refer to Israel’s ideology as ethno-religious nationalism, is a gross misrepresentation considering the number of ethnicities that are embraced (yes, Mr. Lee, blacks are allowed in the pool), the secularism of the vast population, and the degree of self-reflection and criticism in the public debate. Although if ethnic nationalism isn’t inherently bad, why shouldn’t Jews have their own form of it. Doesn’t every group, by definition have their own form of it? Or every group other than the Jews? That Israel insists on always being the home for Jewish people is not exclusive of other religion’s rights to practice. In fact this need for a home, was exemplified by even the USA during WWII when Jewish refugees were turned away from it another other Western countries. So yes, the Zionists did take a different lesson from WWII as could be very reasonably expected since they were the greatest victims. The lesson was not one of superiority or nationalism, but an understanding that no one else can be entrusted with their safety. The insinuation that this is the form of ideology that inevitably leads to atrocities on a Nazi scale is despicable and baseless, though it is a convenient and evocative conclusion. That said, let’s make some comparison’s that you don’t bring up, Mr. Lawrence. Israel allows other religions the right to maintain their own holy sites, and allows people to practice any religion they wish. Compare that to some Arab countries where you cannot have citizenship if you’re not Muslim, that destroy and defile holy sites of other religions, where you can get the death penalty for converting, or, as is the case with your wife, where the children of legal residents are kept wanting for some very basic rights (Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories alike are allowed to be doctors, for example). Also, I have not heard a word on the fact that unlike Israel, where religious freedom is complete and 20% of the population is Muslim, the MODERATE Palestinian leader has vowed that not one Jew will be allowed to remain in a Palestinian state… or even a Jewish peacekeeper for that matter. Finally, to correct you on basic facts, your correction was incomplete, since the cabinet did not pass a law, it passed a bill, nowhere near becoming a law.

  6. So I noticed the replies here are of the “if you think Israel is bad” type. You commentators do realize that’s a fallacy right? Either defend the new law they’re proposing or don’t. Don’t try to divert the topic to another country to keep the discussion off Israel however, that’s just unbecoming for (presumably) adults who have the ability to think logically.

  7. BTW, even Germany, the country that has learned the most from the horrors of WWII, has a right of return, as do many other western countries. So again, singling out Israel for a change in their oath doesn’t seem all that justified.

  8. Blaine, my argument, was not one of “If you think Israel is bad”. I am actually saying that there is nothing inherently bad about the law mentioned (which, again, isn’t a law right now). The purpose of the comparisons is only to show that Israel is often singled out with the slightest bit of an excuse to the exception of the world’s most egregious human rights offenders (a la UNHRC). I am not one who think anti-Israel criticism is inherently anti-Semitic, but when the world’s only Jewish state is the only one that’s obsessed over while undeniably criminal regimes are ignored, it’s fairly conspicuous.

  9. AIG: Perhaps if Israel didn’t have pretensions to being a western democracy, thus inviting the comparison, people wouldn’t compare Israel unfavorably to western democracies. Civil rights may be worse in Sudan or Burma than they are in Lebanon, but that certainly doesn’t stop me from criticizing Lebanon on a regular basis. The same goes for the US.

    Nate: First of all, the German right of return is somewhat different than Israel’s. One of my grandparents was the child of German immigrants, but that doesn’t give me the right to “return” to Germany.

    Otherwise, I’m not sure where you get the idea that I’m fixed on Israel, since if you take a look at the archives, I write a fair amount on the US, Lebanon, Sudan, Rwanda and other countries as well. I definitely write more about Israel than I do about, say, Laos, but I don’t live in a country that borders Laos, and Laos isn’t constantly threatening to bomb Lebanon. If I lived in Vietnam or Cambodia, I’d probably know a lot more and have a lot more to say about Laos. But I don’t.

    For the record, I think you’re right about the UNHCR. Out of the 13 special sessions they’ve had, I think 6 have been about Israel. That’s completely out of proportion and I think it does a disservice to that body. On the other hand, I also think the security council is biased in Israel’s favor due to the friendly votes/vetoes guaranteed by the US and the UK. We all know which of the two UN bodies is more powerful.

    Also, I’m just against the ethnic nationalism that would have “Australia for the (white) Aussies” and prefer “les français de souche” to other French citizens. Likewise, what’s happening in Arizona is shameful. Luckily, until people like Le Pen are elected, that ugly strain of ethnic nationalism is likely to be kept in check places like France and the US. In the case of Israel, however, the entire ideology of the state is based on this ethno-religious ideology. And as for blacks swimming in the pool, tell that to the Falasha.

  10. Nate,

    (1) Sean does talk about human rights violations in other countries, including Lebanon – you obviously haven’t reading the blog closely.

    (2) I don’t know why you find the idea that Israel is based on “ethno-religious nationalism” so offensive. For example, as somebody born and raised in New York who has not experienced one iota of persecution, I have a right to automatically become a citizen of Israel by virtue of my parents being Jews. Meanwhile, for a Palestinian who was expelled from, say, Lydda, in 1948, it is virtually impossible to return to their homes and become citizens of Israel. Do you really think that doesn’t constitute ethno-religious nationalism?

    (3) There are important distinctions between Israel’s law of return and that of other countries like Germany. I recommend reading these blog posts by Jerry Haber of The Magnes Zionist. To make it short, Haber’s key points are that (a) while certain other democratic countries have had ethnic-preferential immigration laws, none of them are as expansive as Israel’s – which give every single Jew in the world the right to become a citizen of Israel (b) unlike those other Western democracies, Israel’s Right of Return is intertwined with the massive dispossession of the indigenous Palestinian population

    Also, as far as I know, no other democracy has required its immigrants to take a citizenship oath upholding the ethno-religious nature of their new country.

    (4) I don’t want to speak for Sean, but, I could see, why as somebody from the United States (IIRC), he might want to take a particular interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, given the massive economic, military, political, & diplomatic support the USA provides to Israel. Also, while there are other human rights violators in the Middle East, none of them enjoy the perception of an oasis of liberalism and democracy in the American media that Israel does.

    (5) As somebody who is Jewish, I see nothing anti-Semitic in Sean’s blog post. There is unfortunately far too much anti-Jewish bigotry in Lebanon & other parts of the Arab world, but criticism of Zionism does not constitute “Arab hatred.” Prominent Zionists like Ben-Gurion & Jabotinsky certainly recognized it was natural for Palestinians to resist Zionism, even if you don’t.

  11. That Falasha article seems to prove the opposite of what you’re saying. Racism exists in Israel as it does in any multicultural society, but the article clearly shows the social and political backlash against such racism, calling it completely unacceptable. As for ethnic nationalism, being a home for a certain people does not stop any others from having the same civil rights or practicing their religion freely. I don’t know exactly what preferences you’re talking about in the Australian or French examples. And while I’ve seen you defend Hezbollah as religiously tollerant, I have not seem the same vitriol toward Arab countries that you have towards Israel. No word on the idea that a Palestinian state must be Judenrein, for example, or the pathetic law passed by Lebanon that still barely gives the Palestinians any rights, although that “Dinner for Schmucks” piece was pretty hard hitting. As far as,”Laos isn’t constantly threatening to bomb Lebanon,” I would love to see these constant threats you speak of

  12. Sorry, the links I posted to Jerry Haber of the Magnes Zionist got messed up. These are the correct links:

  13. I just have a minute here, so more tomorrow, but here are a couple of posts about Palestinians in Lebanon and their horrible situation. You can also check out the comments here.

    The apartheid that Palestinians are subject to in Lebanon is shameful, and it is a subject that is close to my heart, since my wife and her family suffer from the situation constantly. I don’t see that there’s any contradiction in criticizing the situation in Lebanon and Israel, and the problems with the Palestinians, while we’re at it. I will say, however, that while the Lebanese should be ashamed of the current situation here, I am willing to concede that they have been forced to deal with a problem that was created by Israel.

    And if you’re even more hungry for criticism of Lebanon, there’s plenty to go around on this blog.

  14. Sean,

    Israel is a Western Democracy and certainly should be compared to other democracies under the same circumstances. For example, after WWI the US forced the Germans to assimilate and basically brought about the closure of all German speaking schools. In WWII the Japanese were put in camps. Let’s not even discuss the French in Algeria.

    Unfortunately for Israel there are no Western democracies today that are in a comparable situation which allows fair comparison. And you exploit that to the hilt.

  15. That seems an awful lot like moving the goal posts, I’m afraid. When one talks of western democracies, one is talking about western democracies today, not 90 or 50 years ago.

    The US circa-1918 and colonial France would both be shunned today by western democracies, and rightfully so. No country with institutionalized racism (as seen in the Jim Crow laws of the south) or with colonies like la Françafrique would be considered part of civilized society in 2010. This is why apartheid South Africa became a pariah state in the 1980s.

    And that’s Israel’s whole problem — it’s an anachronism. Had it been established in 1748 or 1848 instead of 1948, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion at all, since it would have totally or nearly depopulated historical Palestine of its indigenous population and become a full fledged settler state like Australia or the US. But that’s not what happened, and settler colonies like we see in the West Bank no longer have their equivalent in Algeria under the pieds noirs or even in South Africa under the Afrikaners.

    Even 1948 has come to be legitimized by the western world, but that was the last tale end of a period when that sort of thing was still allowed by the west. By 1956 and 1967, Israel was no longer going to gain international acceptance of land obtained by the force of arms.

  16. 1.”By 1956 and 1967, Israel was no longer going to gain international acceptance of land obtained by the force of arms.” These are actually both acceptable in international law as one isn’t expected to give back land obtained in a defensive war until peace is achieved.
    2.The circumstances in Israel force certain reactions that were not forced upon the US or France merely for survival. You seem to completely ignore context and expect a country to commit suicide in a blanket implementation of Western values.
    3.1948 was in no way comparable to colonialist era policies. By 1948 the majority of the population in the area designated to be Israel was Jewish. They weren’t sent in by some foreign nation state but had existed there for thousands of years. The fact that there was an influx in the 1800s does not make this a colonialist action since much of the Arab population of the land moved to the area at the same time. Therefore, there was nothing about 1948 that was illegitimate and it has not “come to be legitimized by the western world”, since the western world at no point saw it as illegitimate.
    4. While I’m sure it’s hard for you to “concede” that Lebanon have been forced to deal with a problem that was created by Israel, this is clearly not how non-Arab countries deal with refugees. Other refugee populations are only refugees for the first generation, because the countries they go to allow them to integrate. The Arab’s insistence on using the Palestinian population as pawns for generation-to-generation rather than giving them full rights is a choice that cannot be blamed on Israel. If they want to see how a western democracy would act, they need look no further than Israel where 1,000,000 refugees were absorbed. These refugees outnumber Palestinian ones as does the property they were stripped of, they were exiled in actions that had no connection to war, and they gave up any claims of refugeedom and for their property within a single generation.
    5. Also, Israel cannot be blamed for the refugee problem as there would have been no refugees if there had been no war – one which was waged by the Arab countries. So Lebanon is really dealing (inexcusably) with a situation that the Arabs chose to create.
    6. It is very common for people to criticize their own countries as you do with America (in a skewed ultra-liberal way) and as you do with Lebanon. Once you go outside your own countries, choosing Israel to complain about is conspicuous. And your reasoning that other countries (horrible offenders in every category in which you criticize Israel) aren’t constantly threatening to bomb Lebanon, doesn’t hold up since I haven’t seen such threats. I have seen threats of retaliations, if that’s what you’re referring to.

  17. laws are not merely random statements.. they are there to address current issues..

    and while you speak of israels alleged hypocracy i think u do need to look at the broader context.. and within it i challenge you to find me any other western democracy as you call them who has tolerated its members of parliament conducting uncoordinated visits to enemy countries’ parliaments.. at any time.. let alone during times of conflict..

    i challenge you to find any democracy that would tolerate the levels of incitement that minority representatives stir within israel.. which is not to say that there are not grave matters of serious concern but rather that local leaders abuse imperfections to destroy and hijack state institutions rather than to bolster their own motivation to harmonise social differences or correct sectarian injustice..

    in a state where loyalty has been a key issue and in a state that faces enemies both from a security perspective and an identity perspective – laws will arise to safe guard such sensitivities..

    im not necessarily justifying the law.. but your conclusions are a bit out of control when you take a bill and stretch it over the ideology of the whole country.. especially before it passes the three readings..

    and btw as the grandson of a european i was granted automatic citizenship on an ethnic basis at birth to a european country even though many locally born turks etc would never be so lucky in a manner that is very similar to the israeli law of return.. israels immigration laws are not that unique

    i think the loyalty issue at large warrants debate.. i think it requires detailed attention.. unfortunately i dont think uve hit the nail on the head..

  18. and while u note a divergence in approach between israel and other western nations in relation to WW2 – i would submit that youd struggle to find an honest european who would praise their country’s immigration policies over the past 20 years and is glad about the swelling minorities and cultural clashes..

  19. I’m not sure if you’re making a category error or are being disingenuous, Lirun. In your case, you most likely had to prove that your grandparent was a citizen of the European country in question. In the Israeli context, if I could prove that my grandfather from Iowa was a convert to Judaism, I would be granted Israeli citizenship as part of the “law of return” even though he clearly had no connection to Israel/Palestine, except perhaps a spiritual one. Likewise, any Jew in California or Sweden or Latvia can obtain immediate Israeli citizenship based on the idea that 2,000 years ago, give or take, their ancestors were members of the tribe of Israelites.

    I think we can both agree that a Mexican cannot claim German citizenship by claiming that 2,000 years ago his forebears were members of a Germanic tribe in what is now Dusseldorf.

    Now I wouldn’t have such a hard time with Israeli citizenship laws if this bias towards Jews, be they converts, Russian Orthodox or whatnot, if it weren’t for the fact that their “right of return” is directly and explicitly at the expense of Palestinians who, far from basing their right of return on the Bible, still have the keys and property deeds to their homes in what has now become a Jewish state.

    My father-in-law was forced to leave Haifa when he was 14 years old with his entire family, and not only was he not allowed to ever return to his family’s home (which was confiscated by the Israeli state, since he was an “absentee”), he wasn’t even allowed to be buried there when he died last year.

    But you’re apparently fine with that, since he was an “enemy” from an “identity perspective.” The fact of the matter is that the West tolerates and supports sentiments from Israelis that are considered the ugliest and most shameful legacies of European ethnic nationalism. You may consider yourself a liberal, but you’re not. Because while you think it’s wonderful to go down to the Jaffa beach and surf with Arabs, you only tolerate them so long as they stay a minority and don’t threaten the Jewish ethnocracy that’s currently in place. And that is the underlining logic behind a Jewish state, democratic or otherwise.

    That’s why I actually respect the right-wing and zealous Israelis more than the fair-weather “liberal Zionists” of Tel Aviv, because at least they are intellectually honest enough to own up to the logic of their worldview.

  20. it is heart warming to see that you have adopting your wife’s family’s suffering so closely.. now how did they go with their studies in lebanon.. when were they allowed to leave the refugee camp? its great that you focus on your father in law’s burial.. what about his life? how much did you fight to improve that?

    we are in a state of war genuis.. my colleague in the office next door (whose whole family was born in lebanon) cant go to their homes either..

    what confuses you about this..

    by the way i love your uri geller skills.. you know what i think.. you know what i want.. you know me inside out man.. you know everything.. so talented.. given that you know everything – why dont you fix the situation.. you’re clearly brilliant.. surely you know the answer to our conflict

  21. Oh, so it’s just the state of war that bothers you? So if that’s the case, you’d be up for a peace treaty that included the right of return for all Palestinian refugees?

    I didn’t think so.

    For the record: If you look through the blog, you’ll see that I fully support the return of Lebanese Jews, and I hope that the restoration of the synagogue downtown (bombed by Israel, by the way) will be but the first step towards that goal.

  22. here you go again putting words in my mouth..

    of course you support the dispersion of israelis from israel.. how surprising..

  23. btw i think u need a holiday

  24. […] enough, Sean Lee has written an error-riddled blog post on the debate about an Israeli loyalty oath, where he registered his support for the loyalty oath, […]

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