Palestinian Israelis are to have ‘Jewish’ nationality (as Jews once had to be public Christians in Europe)

Today the Israeli government approved a proposal by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to change the declaration of loyalty required of all non-Jews applying for Israeli citizenship (excluding those entitled to citizenship according to the Law of Return).  Neeman’s proposal seeks to amend the current declaration – “I declare that I will be a loyal national of the State of Israel” (Nationality Law 5712-1952, art. 5c) – to include the words “as a Jewish and democratic state”.

The timing is symbolic. Exactly ten years ago, the first ten days of October 2000 were marked by protests in northern Israel, brutally repressed by Israeli police, who used live ammunition, rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas against Palestinian Israeli citizens, leaving 13 dead. Israeli security forces have never used live ammunition against Jewish protesters – no matter how violent. The contradiction between “Jewish” and “democratic” could not have been more poignant. The events were a watershed for Palestinian Israelis, comparable to 30 March 1976 (“Land Day”), demonstrating once again their second-class citizenship and exclusion (“treated as enemies”), and affirming their connection to Palestinians on the other side of the “green line”.

And for many Jewish Israelis, the protests themselves (in solidarity with Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in the OPT) reflected the basic disloyalty of Palestinian citizens to the Jewish state.

A commission of inquiry (the Or Commission) identified institutional discrimination as one of the root causes of Palestinian discontent, and made a series of recommendations to address this inequality. Not only have the commission’s recommendations been ignored, but since October 2000, efforts have been redoubled to “Judaise” the Galilee, Wadi ‘Ara and the Triangle, and to discredit Palestinian Israeli leaders and representatives in the Knesset. The ban on Palestinian family unification (where one spouse is an Israeli citizen and the other a Palestinian from the OPT) can also be traced to these events, as can recent attempts to reinforce Israel’s “Jewish character” – in proposed legislation such as the amendment to the declaration of loyalty (for other examples, see the Association for Civil Rights in Israel’s position paper Harming Democracy in the Heart of Democracy), and in the repeated demand for international and especially Palestinian recognition of Israel “as a Jewish state”.

Another Israeli policy with roots in the October Events is the crackdown on Palestinian civil society, as described by Ameer Makhoul.

In The Time of the Green Line, Yehouda Shenhav compares the situation of Palestinian citizens of Israel to that of emancipated Jews in 19th-century Europe (beginning with Prussia, in 1841), who were afforded individual freedoms, but required to be “Christians” in public. Shenhav writes:

According to the model of the green line, Palestinian nationalism must accept the Judaism of the public sphere; it does not allow recognition of Palestinian nationalism that is not subservient, and denies Palestinian citizens of Israel collective political rights. The demand that the state be Jewish and democratic requires Palestinian citizens of Israel to define their nationality as Jewish, even if they are Muslims or Christians by religion. … Palestinian citizens of Israel are not willing to define their nationality as Jewish … all the more so, because the Jewish state defines their own nationality as that of an enemy.

During the Oslo years, many Israeli Jews, even on the left, believed that this transformation had largely been accomplished, that Israel’s Palestinian citizens had developed a national identity distinct from that of other Palestinians, a “Jewish” identity. The events of October 2000 shattered those illusions, but led very few to question the political and ideological system behind them, opting instead for more of the same: forced Judaisation, not only of the land, but of all of its inhabitants – with the caveat that they will never be treated as equals.

About Shmuel Sermoneta-Gertel

Shmuel Sermoneta-Gertel is a Canadian-Israeli translator living in Italy.
Posted in Israel/Palestine, US Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

{ 40 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. potsherd says:

    I see that they backed down on having Jews take this oath, making its racist nature more obvious.

    This move seems to be directed clearly against the prospect of the binational state. If I read it correctly, it applies only to new citizens. This excludes the present Palestinian citizens of Israel and presumably their offspring who would already be entitled to citizenship.

    So who is supposed to take this oath? African immigrants? Foreign workers? Israel is working hard to expel such people “to preserve the Jewish nature of the state,” not admit them to citizenship. Who else besides Jews is immigrating into Israel in significant numbers to make this law necessary?

    It can only mean that they are expecting large numbers of Palestinians to seek citizenship, and this means either present legal residents or Palestinians folded into Israel by some agreement with the PA.

    • Potsherd,

      The only group I can think of are non-Palestinian spouses of non-Jewish Israelis – as Palestinian spouses of non-Jewish Israelis are currently denied residency as well as citizenship. Non-Jewish spouses of Jewish Israelis are naturalised by the Law of Return, and so exempt from the declaration of loyalty.

      In other words, the amendment is entirely symbolic, and a partial concession to Lieberman, who is still working on a loyalty oath for all Palestinian citizens.

      • potsherd says:

        A partial concession, but perhaps also preempting it.

      • Avi says:


        First, thanks for bringing this topic to the forefront with your article.

        Second, I’d like to point out that while the amendment could very well be symbolic as you state, nonetheless, it sets yet another precedent on the road to Transfer. (Israeli euphemism for Ethnic Cleansing).

        Third, it bears mentioning that the collective rights of the Palestinian minority in Israel were never recognized by the State. But, as you pointed out in the article, the language of the amendment plays a part in further normalizing the institutionalized discrimination against said minority. In other words, last year the Palestinian minority did not have collective rights; this year, that lack of collective rights was given a name (i.e. Jewish nationality); next year, once the Israeli public gets used to the distinctions, the government will escalate with another ‘minor’ change.

    • annie says:

      i don’t think they backed down on jews taking this oath. i don’t think that was ever seriously considered. in a discussion about this on another site an israeli just said this:

      Israel under the proposed laws doesn’t require any Jew or any non-Jewish spouse of a Jew or any new immigrant whose grandparent was a Jew to give the pledge allegiance to the Jewish state is because no Rabbi worth his salt would permit his congregation to this.

      Indeed, no serious Rabbi would consider pledging allegiance to a or the Jewish state. None, no one.

      • potsherd says:

        I know that it was seriously considered, because the haredim made a big deal about refusing to take it. Many of the larger cults are still antiZionist and refuse to recognize the state.

  2. Gellian says:

    Awesome! I say we Americans learn from our client state and finally throw off the veil and declare that America really is, as it always has been, a Christian country. (Oops! Mustn’t say that…)

    Loyalty oath signups begin tomorrow. Be there or be squared!

  3. clenchner says:

    It’s sad. In many ways, the Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are a bridge between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians in the OT. It should be a strong interest for Israel to cultivate this community, grant them equality, rights, and have an open dialogue across societies about nationality, identity and autonomy.

    I felt so comfortable in the communities of my Arab friends. Much more so than they could feel in my community. Why is it so hard to see that Israel’s best chance for a peaceful future requires the cultivation of stronger ties between Jews and Arabs?

  4. Egbert says:

    Gideon Levy proposes that Israel be renamed the . Seems appropriate to me.

  5. Dan Crowther says:

    Not for nothing, but this type of thing makes me take a very dim view of dual citizens. Obviously, I am not talking about 0-20 year olds- but people like Michael Chertoff (fmr Homeland Sceurity Dir.) should have to make a decision. At this point, anyone carrying both an Israeli and American passport is saying to the world- ” I like democracy, except when I don’t”
    Well, if that’s the way you feel, and if oaths like the one mentioned above don’t bother you- why fake the funk any further? Go for the gusto

    I also can’t help but thinking that the ease with which Israeli’s can come and go to the US is partly responsible for these types of policies- it doesn’t matter if policies like this make Israel less safe, or a place where you don’t want to live (full time) – you can still have a flat in Ariel, and live in New York the rest of the year!! YEA!!! I mean, who doesn’t love ” wet, hot Apartheid Summer?”

  6. Jim Haygood says:

    It’s often joked that everyone living in NYC is an honorary Jew, simply from exposure to the culture. But Israel’s loyalty oath to a ‘Jewish state’ has a more sinister, less voluntary ring to it. Shall the Palestinians be obliged to become conversos?

    Conversos [in 15th century Spain] were subject to suspicion and harassment from both the community they were leaving and that which they were joining. Both Christians and Jews called them tornadizos (renegades).

    Laws were promulgated to protect their property, forbid attempts to reconvert them, and regulate the behavior of the conversos themselves, preventing their cohabitation or even dining with Jews, lest they convert back. The conversos did not enjoy legal equality. Alfonso VII prohibited the “recently converted” from holding office in Toledo.

    link to

    So Israel’s going medieval, perhaps eventually to offer its inconvenient Arabs the choice of conversion or expulsion. As South Africa and Dixie proved in the past, democracy doesn’t preclude rampant racism.

  7. yonira says:

    This is quite disgusting. Unfortunately I am sure this will be voted through in the Knesset. Does the Supreme Court have a say after it is law?

    • Yonira,

      The Supreme Court (High Court of Justice) can send the law back to the Knesset, if it feels that it is inconsistent with existing law (especially the Basic Laws and constitutional principles). The Knesset would then be required to revise this or other laws, or legislate some sort of exception. Where there’s a political will, there’s a political way.

      The Court may do this, although I doubt it for a number of reasons:

      1. The current law already requires non-Jews (and only non-Jews) to declare loyalty to the state, upon naturalisation.
      2. The definition of the state as Jewish and democratic appears explicitly in the Basic Laws (e.g. Basic Law: The Knesset, am.9, art. 7A,1), and implicitly in the Declaration of Independence.
      3. The HCJ is very wary about interfering in legislation, as it upsets the balance of powers. It would have to have a very good reason to do so.

    • Chaos4700 says:

      Oh, decided to join the “Israel haters” on this one, have we?

  8. seafoid says:

    Everything that Israel does the Palestinians on the way up will surely be acceptable for the Palestinians to do to the Zionists on the way down. Israel can’t legislate against a Jewish minority in the binational state of the future.

  9. annie says:

    i’m livid. the implications of this are horrendous.

    Hence the frenetic anti-Arab legislation, aiming to limit the role Arabs play in Israeli politics and culture. Hence Netanyahu’s insistence on Abu Mazen, a foreign diplomat, recognizing Israel’s Jewish character; and hence the determination to resolve Israel’s relations with its Palestinian minority through the most exclusivist and segregationist interpretation of the two state solution; most importantly, hence the exceptionally broad acceptance of this interpretation from right to “center Left,” from Lieberman to Tzipi Livni. The beast of ethnic cleansing is well on its way to Bethlehem, and it’s rapidly becoming normalized and legitimized – by prettier names – to the general Israeli public. We’ll be seeing more and more of this careful, calculated slouch as the year goes on.


    it does not allow recognition of Palestinian nationalism that is not subservient

    israel wants palestinians to be subservient. no dignity allowed.

  10. Gellian says:

    Now, now. Don’t get, ahem, cross with me.

    I wouldn’t want to cross the Israel lobby.

    Or would I? How many times can we make this pun?

  11. pjdude says:

    Does this mean the US can require all the Israel firsters to sign an oath requiring them to put the interests of the Us ahead of any and all foriegn countries?

  12. Citizen says:

    Revisiting the one-state solution in all its varients still boils down to equal rights and the ultimate question, how is equal treatment possible in a Jewish state? It isn’t. link to

    How can an honest broker always remember the Shoah yet never contemplate the Nakba? Is the survival of Israelis more important than the lives of Palestinians? Why? Shouldn’t Uncle Sam at least think about this?
    How about the lives and pocket books of everyday Americans?

  13. David Samel says:

    I don’t wish to be flippant, but I don’t find myself having a negative reaction to this law. It exposes the racist face and foundation of the Jewish State, yet is largely symbolic, as it appears to have a very limited scope of application. Ordinarily, an ugly development that exposes Israel’s racism would also cause significant hardship, but this one does not. Of course, it may pave the way for worse, and Israel seems to weather embarrassments such as this with no difficulty, so its value may be minimal.

    On the bigger issue of equality for Palestinian citizens, I have only seen hasbarists point to the 1948 Ben-Gurion founding declaration, as if his “guarantee” of equal rights was not only sincere but trumps the subsequent record of 62 years of brazen inequality, coupled with plain common sense: equal rights for non-Jews in a Jewish state? How does that work?

    • Sumud says:

      I don’t wish to be flippant, but I don’t find myself having a negative reaction to this law.


      But seriously, if you haven’t yet, take a look at Gideon Levy’s piece that is linked to in a few comments above. He lists a whole other lot of racist laws that are on their way to getting pushed through the Knesset. In a million small steps, this is the “nazification” of Israel.

      • He lists a whole other lot of racist laws that are on their way to getting pushed through the Knesset.

        Or you could look at my ACRI link above ;-)

        My point (like Levy’s) was that this amendment cannot be taken on its own – in which case it would indeed seem rather insignificant – but is part of a concerted campaign, going back a number of years.

  14. MHughes976 says:

    I once looked at the Israel immigration site and the topic that leaped to the eye was not loyalty to Israel but conversion to Judaism. The question of immigration by those who were Jewish neither by inheritance nor by conversion hardly seemed to arise. It looked to me as if this aspect of immigration policy was and was set to remain at the heart of the matter rather than loyalty tests imposed on what looked like a tiny minority of camels that might manage to get through the eye of the immigration needle.

  15. Bumblebye says:

    Ok, now I’m fuming. I’ve decided the Big Yahoo and Lieberman and their crew in government are the pigs, and this constant misuse of the army to support illegality makes the soldiers the pig’s trotters. I don’t give a hoot if that’s insulting – it’s supposed to be!

  16. Kathleen says:

    So can we get a loyalty oath for all of those in the U.S. who have dual citizenship? Wonder how many of our Reps have dual citizenship?

    Phillip do you?

  17. Keith says:

    JEWISH AND DEMOCRATIC- Something continues to trouble me. The historical Zionist thinking was that to appeal to the Western democracies, Israel would have to have a nominally democratic system. This, in turn, was thought to require a significant Jewish majority for the state to be “Jewish.” But is this true? Look at South Africa. The country is overwhelmingly black, but it is essentially controlled by white oligarchs and white-controlled transnational corporations. The black politicians do what capitalist politicians do everywhere: they manage the population/infrastructure for the benefit of the economic elites, within the narrow limits imposed by transnational finance. If Israel was to abandon Zionism and become a state of its citizens, the Jews would continue to control the economy, hence, the state for the foreseeable future. Also, Jewish “culture”, however defined, and Israeli Judaism would not seem to be in any danger. The problem for Israeli Jews would seem to be with the logic of Zionist ideology which requires the redemption of the land, hence, the elimination of the non-Jewish population to the greatest feasible extent. And then there is the problem of American Jewish Zionists and Imperial geo-strategy, much too complicated to comment on now.

  18. link to

    The Palestinian Authority’s Education Ministry approved the use of a history textbook that offers the central narratives of both Palestinians and the Zionist movement, marking the first time that the accepted Israeli position is being presented to schoolchildren in the West Bank.

    The textbook, which has been banned from use by the Israeli Education Ministry, is the result of a joint Israeli-Palestinian-Swedish collaboration to promote coexistence through education. It will be taught in two high schools near Jericho, the Palestinian Education Ministry said.

    “Unfortunately, the Palestinians are further along than the Israeli Education Ministry when it comes to acknowledging the other side of the conflict,” said an official involved in administering the textbook in the Sha’ar Hanegev school. “While [the Palestinians] approved the project, here they are summoning the principal for clarifications. This is a highly embarrassing situation.”

  19. RoHa says:

    The idea of “Jewish” as a “nationality” simply does not make sense to me.

  20. Tuyzentfloot says:

    I’m wondering to what extent the october 2000 events can be called an act of defining the moment rather than just ‘a defining moment’.

    One could consider the following descriptions for the october 2000 events. The descriptions are not mutually exclusive.
    1. a cause, it starts something. A defining moment.
    2. a symptom, something becomes more clear that was there all along
    3. a military style effective crackdown, with excess being part of the effectiveness.
    4. a conscious act of (re)defining the situation, the relationship

    About that last item, I think you can see it with the flotilla raid. With the Gaza Flotilla some decision makers who are well informed about the situation on board of the flotilla decide to treat the flotilla as hostile and violent aggression with no legitimacy at all. These people are terrorists and terrorist sympatizers. Treat them accordingly. Make them feel it. And then there was surprise when there was some actual resistance on board.
    This doesn’t mean there is an consensus about that decision before the events, it can be a ‘small circle’ decision, and it is possible that ‘the definition’ to some extent describes the perception of the decisionmakers, but I think it’s best described as a conscious decision to define the situation rather than an attempt to understand it. The definition is imposed.
    The people at home who consider the IDF the most moral army in the world, instantly adopt this definition. If the IDF treats these people as terrorists, they must have a good reason to.

    I think the 2000 events also contained a conscious decision to define the protests of the Israeli Arabs as aggression from enemy forces. It was an odd decision. This definition was adopted instantly by the public.

    The act of defining the situation is part of asserting power, imposing your will, so it’s more than how the decisionmakers happen to perceive the situation. There’s a fairly famous quote in an article of Ron Suskind, goes like this:
    The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” To some extent this type of thinking is fairly common. When negotiators are trying to set the rules of the game they are also trying to define reality. There is an awareness of this act of defining reality.