JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Cabinet approved a loyalty oath requiring non-Jews wishing to become citizens to pledge allegiance to Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state."
Following several hours of debate, the vote was approved Sunday by 22 ministers and opposed by eight — five from the Labor Party, including party head Ehud Barak, and three from the Likud Party.
"There is no other democracy in the Middle East," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the beginning of the Cabinet meeting before to the debate and vote on the amendment. "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 recognize this.
"To my regret, today there are those who are trying to blur not only the unique connection between the Jewish people and its homeland but also the connection between the Jewish people and its state. Democracy is the soul of Israel and we cannot do without it. No one can preach democracy or enlightenment to us. Zionism established an exemplary national state, a state that balances between the national needs of our people and the individual rights or every citizen in the country."
During the meeting, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman proposed that in addition to non-Jews seeking Israeli citizenship, Jews seeking Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return also should be required to swear allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday that he would vote in favor of the amendment only if it included his suggested change, adding the phrase "In the spirit of the Declaration of Independence."
Neither change was adopted.
The amendment advances to the Knesset’s legislative committee and then to the full Knesset.
The loyalty oath amendment fulfills part of the government’s coalition agreement with Avidgor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party.