Israel cabinet approves controversial 'oath' proposal

Twenty two ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's jumbo cabinet voted in favour of the proposal, including most of his ruling Likud party members, while eight opposed it.

The divided cabinet spent hours deliberating Justice Minister Ya'akov Ne'eman's proposed amendment to the Law of Citizenship. Amid the debate on the matter, Ne'eman himself suggested changing the wording of the draft to apply to Jews and non-Jews alike.

The clearance of the controversial proposal is being seen as a major victory for Israel's right-wing, but the country's Arab minority sees it as a racist discriminatory policy. The Leftist bloc feels the policy could delegitimise the Jewish state, leading to its isolation.

As the cabinet began its deliberations on the matter today, Netanyahu reiterated his support for the proposal. "The State of Israel is the national state of the Jewish people and it is a democratic state for all its citizens," he said, adding "Jews and non-Jews enjoy equality and full rights".

"Unfortunately, there are many today who tried to blur not only the unique connection of the Jewish people to its homeland, but also the connection of the Jewish people to its state," the hawkish Premier added.

Emphasising that Israel is the only democratic country in the Middle East, the leader, who has repeatedly demanded that the Palestinians accept Israel as a Jewish state in any peace deal, stressed that "no one can preach democracy or enlightenment to us".

"There is no other democracy in the Middle East," Netanyahu said, adding, "There is no other Jewish state in the world". "The combination of these two lofty values expresses the foundation of our national life and anyone who would like to join us needs to recognise this".

Right-wing parties that dominate the Likud led coalition expressed satisfaction at the approval. "The government decision that people who become citizens must declare their loyalty to the State of Israel as Jewish and democratic is an important message," said a spokesman for Yisrael Beiteinu party whose ultra-nationalist leader, foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, has been at the forefront of the demand for a loyalty oath by Arabs.

Labour party Chairman, Defence Minister Ehud Barak, withdrew his non-conditional support for the amendment just moments before the government meeting on the matter, saying that he would only back it if a slight adjustment was made.

Barak earlier proposed that the amendment, in addition to defining Israel as Jewish and democratic, also add the words "in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence". The Labour chairman explained that the addition "reflects Israel's open and liberal spirit" and "coincides with the basic values adopted by other countries in the world".

"This is not a minor change, but rather an essential one," Barak said. "Critics of the bill fear it embodies ulterior motives destined to be aimed against new citizens who are not Jewish, like Arabs, and that it will be used as a tool for the promotion of racism," he asserted.

"This is not Lieberman, but rather the true Netanyahu. He has fired the opening shot of a mega-racist legislation," he said. Arab lawmakers dubbed the legislation as racist, accusing Netanyahu of falling prey to his right-wing coalition, especially Lieberman whose vicious attacks on the Arab minority have often attracted worldwide criticism.

"He is fully responsible for Israel's placement at the top of the list of the most racist regimes in the modern world. "Siamese twins Barak and Netanyahu have fired another missile today at the negotiations," said Hadash party Chairman Mohammad Barakeh.

Another prominent Arab lawmaker, Ahmad Tibi, accused the government of becoming a "stooge of Yisrael Beiteinu and its fascist policies". "There is no other country in the world that forces its citizens to swear an oath to a sectarian ideology.

"Israel has proven it is not egalitarian but is rather democratic only towards Jews – and Jewish towards Arabs," Tibi said.

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