Make no mistake, the wording advocated by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that would require non-Jewish immigrants to express loyalty to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state before receiving citizenship is more about internal political expediency than ideology. Same goes for the prime minister’s proposal to extend the building moratorium in the West Bank in exchange for a public declaration by the Palestinian Authority recognizing “Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.”
We empathize with Netanyahu’s delicate balancing act, trying to hold his right-wing coalition together while making progress on the Palestinian negotiations front. And he is quite adept at the process. But even Likud leaders of principle, like Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and Reuven Rivlin, oppose the loyalty oath because it is merely symbolic, ineffective on a practical level (people can mask their true sentiments when taking the oath) and further, can undermine Israel’s claim of being a democracy with equal rights for all.
Why give political ammunition to those who seek to delegitimize Israel, allowing them to make the case that the state’s democracy is narrowly defined, confined to certain segments of the population? And at a time when significant numbers of young American Jews are increasingly ambivalent about identifying with Israel, why create holes in the image and substance of a democratic society?
The country’s Declaration of Independence is sufficient in describing it as a Jewish state, and to press the point now is to risk alienating the few allies Israel has, creating another public relations black eye for itself.
Knesset speaker Rivlin, a self-described “fervent Zionist,” noted: “This law will not assist us as a society and a state. On the contrary, it could arm our enemies and opponents in the world in an effort to emphasize the trend for separatism or even racism within Israel.”
As for the prime minister’s call for the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland (already rejected, we note), it would be emotionally satisfying, historically accurate and more than deserved, particularly after Netanyahu has recognized the Palestinians’ right to self-determination. What about us? he asks, understandably.
But in the end Israel doesn’t need an empty utterance of recognition from Abbas. It needs the Palestinians, and the Arab world, to come to terms with the Jewish people’s legitimate right to self-determination in the land between the Jordan River and the Sea. That’s the crux of what has held up a peace agreement for decades, and it will continue unless and until Israel’s neighbors accept the reality of its existence. And only a durable, realistic peace will make it so — not mere words.