Identifying with Israel’s national character
By DANNY AYALON, JPOST
There is nothing wrong with asking prospective citizens to pledge allegiance to the ‘Jewish and democratic State of Israel.’
There has been much recent debate about what has been described as an amendment to the country’s Oath or Pledge of Allegiance for those who seek naturalization, which was passed in the cabinet on Sunday. The furor has been over the addition of the words “Jewish and democratic state”; currently the law states that one need only pledge allegiance to “the State of Israel.”
The opprobrium appears to center around the use of the word “Jewish,” with critics throwing every epithet at the amendment, from “unconstitutional” to “racist.”
These labels have sought to polarize the debate about an amendment which is completely consistent with our national character.
Since the inception of modern Zionism, which stood on the shoulders of thousands of years of historical and biblical Zionism, the “Jewish state” ahas been the rallying call for the return to political sovereignty in our ancestral land.
The father of modern political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, wrote Der Judenstaat, “The Jewish State,” during 1896, mistakenly translated into Hebrew as “The State of the Jews.”
Almost a decade earlier, Naphtali Herz Imber wrote the words to our national anthem, unashamedly reflecting the Jewish yearning for a return to Zion that fills me with emotion and pride every time it is sung.
On November 29, 1947, the international community overwhelmingly recognized the establishment of a Jewish state. Less than one year later, the Jewish state was realized as David Ben-Gurion read the immortal words of the Declaration of Independence, which contained the term “Jewish state” no less than five times. Only minutes later, US president Harry Truman recognized Israel as the Jewish state.
CURRENTLY, ISRAEL faces the greatest delegitimization campaign of any nation. One of the main targets is its national character. Unfortunately, too many Israeli Jews have internalized this assault and have either forgotten, misunderstood or are actively working against the raison d’être of the reestablishment of Israel.
Regrettably, efforts to delegitimize Israel’s national character have reached the mainstream even within our own country. It is simply astonishing to hear all the criticism of what should be an uncontroversial amendment. Would these same people have branded Herzl, Inbar, Ben-Gurion, Truman and even the UN General Assembly racist or discriminatory for the words they wrote? Much of the uproar derives from the simple misconception as to the meaning of the term “Jewish.”
While many like to constrict the term as merely referring to a religious belief, its meaning is far greater. To be Jewish is to be part of a nation, civilization, culture and people. I frequently tell visiting dignitaries who are similarly uncertain that Jews are to Israel as the Chinese are to China and the French are to France.
When we ask prospective citizens to emphasize Israel’s status as both a “Jewish and democratic state” we call on them to embrace the true meaning and substance of the State of Israel, without compromising their civil rights. Without these terms, Israel’s unique significance is rendered meaningless.
There is a reason that the American Pledge of Allegiance evolved from the original, “I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
The additions, “of the United States of America” and “under God” addressed supplementary facets of the American national character and served as a guide for prospective immigrants.
Those who refuse to acknowledge Israel’s national character wish to strip it of any defining features, to make it a “Hebrew-speaking republic” which leaves us little to be proud of. The unparalleled assault on our legitimacy is both from without and within, and we need strong and certain leadership to stand our ground.
MKs like Haneen Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka and Ahmed Tibi, the fiercest opponents of the amendment, regularly seek to undermine our national existence.
However, Israel Beiteinu is committed to stand against the constant post-Zionist assault, whether it is from Israeli academics who seek a boycott, local NGOs that attempt to censure or MKs who seek to dismantle the nation I so proudly serve. There needs to be a recalibration of civic responsibility and the duties and obligations of a citizen, as in every other democracy. The tumult surrounding the amendment amply proves that a reaffirmation of Zionist ideals is necessary.
THERE ARE also those who criticize the fact that the amendment relates only to those prospective citizens unable to make aliya through the Law of Return.
This again demonstrates a grave misunderstanding of history.
The Law of Return, built on the internationally accepted principle of jus sanguins, is the ultimate expression of the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. Thus, the pledge becomes unnecessary for those who join us by virtue of their national and historic ties to our land and people. The Jewish state was created to deal specifically with the issue of the Jewish people, and the return of any Jew to his or her land is the fulfillment of this principle.
The Basic Law: Human Liberty and Dignity – one of the key components of our constitutional law passed by the Knesset in 1992 – states as its purpose “to protect human dignity and liberty in order to establish in a basic law the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”
Those non-Jews who become citizens need to fully appreciate that the State of Israel is the national expression of the self-determination of the Jewish people.
Those who object to the new formula are doing untold damage to the sincerity of the Zionist mission, and make our case harder to explain.
Only by adhering to and proudly reinforcing our national character, not only to those who wish to join our people, but also to the nations of the world, will we validate our presence. Many nations actively promote their national mission, whether it is “American exceptionalism” or France’s “liberté, égalité, fraternité.”
Every nation has its national ethos, and Israel’s “light unto the nations” can only be expressed through its Jewish character, which we must state clearly and unequivocally.
Those who disparage clearly describing Israel as the eternal aspiration of the Jewish people provide ample ammunition to those who seek the end of our national existence.
The writer is deputy foreign minister and an Israel Beiteinu MK.