Israel’s mainly right wing government has voted overwhelming in favour of legislation requiring non-Jewish new citizens to swear allegiance to the country as a Jewish state.
The 30-member coalition cabinet on Sunday endorsed a draft amendment by 22 votes to eight, a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said. It has still to be approved by parliament before becoming law.
“The cabinet a short time ago approved an amendment to the Citizenship Act regarding the pledge of allegiance to the state of Israel,” it said.
“According to the amendment… ‘Jewish and democratic state’ will be added at the end of the pledge of allegiance.”
Israeli media said all five ministers from the left-leaning Labour party voted against the proposal, as did three members of Netanyahu’s own Likud.
The controversial amendment had been toned down from an original proposal by the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, which would have required even Arabs born in Israel to make the pledge and promise to serve in the military or perform other national service.
But it has still been slammed as inflammatory and racist by the country’s Arab minority, and one Labour minister said on Sunday ahead of the vote that it took the country to “the edge of a chasm”.
“There is a whiff of fascism on the margins of Israeli society,” Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog told army radio.
“The overall picture is very disturbing and threatens the democratic character of the state of Israel.”
Netanyahu told ministers at the start of Sunday’s meeting that the proposed pledge was in keeping with the words and spirit of the Jewish state’s founders.
“There is no other democracy in the Middle East. There is no other Jewish state in the world,” the premier added.
“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.”
The amendment has been denounced within Israel’s Arab community, which makes up about 20 per cent of the population, as targeting Palestinians seeking citizenship after marrying Israeli-Arab citizens.
Others have said it would have little practical effect and may be a trade-off for the right in exchange for backing elsewhere, perhaps support of an extension to a moratorium on Jewish settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.
“I see no reason for the loyalty law… other than some kind of political arrangement between Lieberman and Netanyahu,” Minorities Minister Avishay Braverman, of the Labour party, told journalists outside the cabinet office.
Many cabinet members oppose extending the settlement freeze despite Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s refusal to hold further US-backed negotiations without a complete halt to settlement activity.
The 10-month moratorium on new settlement building expired last month and Israel has so far refused to renew it.
Arab League foreign ministers on Friday gave the United States one month to get its Israeli ally to relent and backed the Palestinians’ insistence on a complete freeze ahead of any new talks.