14 October 2010
I wasn’t surprised when Jim Besser, of the Jewish Week, called to interview me about the “loyalty oath,” an amendment to Israel’s Citizenship Act that would require all non-Jews seeking Israeli citizenship to swear an oath of allegiance not to the State of Israel, but to the idea of Israel as a Jewish state. NIF- like many Israelis from all points on the political spectrum - opposes the oath because it runs counter to the spirit of Israel’s Declaration of Independence and status as a liberal democracy.
But I was surprised – and deeply disappointed – to read Jim’s article and discover that, with the notable exceptions of the Union of Reform Judaism and the Anti-Defamation League, almost every major American Jewish organization contacted for the story refused to speak on the record about this issue. The article was full of quotes on background from leaders of various organizations condemning the loyalty oath (“my own view is that this is a heavy-handed, wrong idea; it’s a gift to Israel’s delegitimizers,” said one).
Why, then, will they not say so in public?
Contrast this bashfulness with the loud opposition from so many American Jews to the Rotem bill, the legislation that would grant the ultra-Orthodox hierarchy complete control over Jewish identity and conversion in Israel. Of course, the New Israel Fund opposes the Rotem bill and welcomes the many voices fighting for religious pluralism.
But it is not enough for Americans to stand up for justice only when our own identity and rights as Jews are threatened. The “loyalty oath” is a classic slippery-slope issue, which first would compel non-Jews to swear loyalty to a religious identity and entity, a prospect that should deeply trouble us as Americans who support freedom of conscience. But it is also a sop to the hard-line ultra-nationalist right, the same forces that are dug in to enlarge the settlements, prevent a peace agreement, silence NIF and our organizations and stifle dissent inside and outside Israel.
It must be opposed, and it must be opposed publicly. If there ever was a time when our responsibility as Americans and lovers of Israel requires us to challenge a bad idea, it is now. We do Israel no favors by silently assenting to the worst and most exclusionary instincts of its most anti-democratic leaders.
Please, if you have not yet contacted Prime Minister Netanyahu to oppose this bill, do it now. Our public voice, and our commitment to Israel as a just and egalitarian democracy, must be heard.