Israel Cabinet approves changes to citizenship oath

[JURIST] The Israeli Cabinet [official website] approved an amendment [press release] Sunday to the country's Citizenship law [UNHCR backgrounder] that would require those seeking citizenship to pledge allegiance to Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state" and promise "to honor the laws of the state." The amendment was approved by a vote of 22-8. Defense Minister Ehud Barak [official profile] submitted a proposal that the words "in the spirit and principles of the Declaration of Independence" also be added to the oath, and this proposal was submitted for discussion by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. The amendment will officially be entered into law if it is approved by a majority in the Knesset [official website], Israel' parliament, and once the Israeli Supreme Court [official website, in Hebrew] confirms the language of the law does not conflict with any current laws. At the outset of the discussion, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [official website] expressed his support and emphasized the importance of equal rights in a democratic state:

The State of Israel is the national state of the Jewish People and is a democratic state in which all its citizens—Jewish and non-Jewish— enjoy fully equal rights. The combination of these two lofty values expresses the foundation of our national life and anyone who would like to join us needs to recognize this. …Where else in the Middle East can Jews and non-Jews live safely with fully equal rights other than in Israel? Democracy and equal civil rights for all citizens, Jews and Arabs, are the soul of Israel.
Arab politicians allege the amendment is a tool [Al Jazeera report] to "undermin[e] the rights of the country's Arab minority." Critics also state the amendment has increased tension with the Palestinians, who see the new wording as "an effective renunciation" of Palestinian refugees' Right of Return [Al-Awda backgrounder] and call the oath "undemocratic" [ACRI statement]. Labor ministers have alleged the amendment is a payoff [Haaretz report] for support to extend a settlement building ban in the West Bank.

The Cabinet rejected a proposal [JURIST report] to include language declaring allegiance to a "Jewish, Zionist and democratic" Israel in 2009. Last week, an Israeli district court rejected [JURIST report] Irish Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire's request to gain entry into the country. The ban stems from Maguire's presence on the MV Rachel Corrie when it attempted to deliver aid supplies to the blockaded Gaza Strip [BBC backgrounder] in June. One week earlier, Israeli forces raided [JURIST news archive] several Turkish ships, leaving nine civilians dead. In August, the Turkish Foreign Ministry [official website] announced that it will conduct an investigation [JURIST report] into the incident. The announcement came days after Netanyahu testified [JURIST report] before a civilian commission that Israel did not violate international law. A senior Israeli official announced in July that his government would not cooperate [JURIST report] with an investigation into the incident conducted by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website], but will comply with a separate UN investigation created under the authority of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon [official website]. Earlier in July, an Israeli military probe found that the raid lacked sufficient intelligence and planning [JURIST report], but also concluded that no punishments were necessary.

 

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