A Pragmatic Oath

Last Sunday, the Israeli Cabinet passed a law that requires all non-Jews who are seeking citizenship to recite and oath of loyalty to “the State of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic state.” (Cut to: broad array of angry and outraged international reactions.)

In typical Israeli fashion, the cabinet was bitterly split throughout debate over the controversial law. Members from all parts of the coalition supported it, just as members from several parties opposed it. In typical political fashion, cabinet members tried to turn the debate to other political struggles like the settlement moratorium and typical tri-party dissent. Officials weighed in from all around the world.

Disregard the other contemporary political issues and look at this through a clear and coherent lens. Let’s examine the legitimacy of the “Jewish and Democratic” oath.

Take note of Israel’s neighbors: Lebanon (hello, Hizballah), Syria (hi, single-party government), Jordan (good day, your Majesty), and Egypt (how are you, president who has been in office for twenty-nine years?). Encompassing these countries are other countries who have been in and out of love affairs with the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, Hamid Karzai, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad–none of whom really bring the word “freedom” to your mind. Israel is the only functioning democracy in the Middle East.

Without getting Biblical, let’s look at Israel through a very simplified modern lens. After World War II and the Holocaust, Jewish refugees needed a place to go. It was a place that they had fought for, occupied, lost, and fought for again throughout thousands of years of history. The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel uses the terms “Jew” or “Jewish” twenty-four times. The state was founded as a Jewish one.

The eleventh paragraph of the Declaration: “Accordingly, we, members of the People’s Council, representatives of the Jewish community…hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.”

Unlike the American pledge of allegiance (which each new citizen must recite), there is no mention of God in the Israeli oath. And just as you don’t need to believe in God to say “one nation under God,” you don’t have to be Jewish to acknowledge that you are, indeed, living in a “Jewish and Democratic state.”


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