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Israel Set to Force All Citizens to Swear Oath to Jewish State

by Catrina Stewart In Jerusalem

New Israeli citizens may soon be required to swear an oath of loyalty to a "Jewish and democratic " state, a step that has drawn harsh criticism from human rights groups.

Israel's Cabinet, which meets tomorrow, is expected to approve this and extend a raft of existing measures that make it harder for Palestinians to achieve citizenship.

The wording of the oath, which would apply to new applicants for citizenship, was slammed by Arab advocacy groups, who accused Israel of "racist" policies that attempt to link citizenship to ideology.

"It's another step in the direction of getting the Arabs out of Israel," said Uri Avnery, a former MP and founder of the Israeli Gush Shalom peace movement. "Parliament has become a lynching mob."

The move comes on the back on a series of strikes against Palestinians seeking citizenship and Israeli Arabs who already have it. The Knesset, Israel's parliament, voted this week to strip Hanin Zuabi, an Israeli Arab politician, of her parliamentary privileges for taking part in the Gaza flotilla aimed at breaching Israel's sea blockade.

The new oath of allegiance, which would replace an existing oath to the "State of Israel," appears to represent a watered-down version of legislation enthusiastically promoted by Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's Foreign Minister. His law, which failed to clear parliament, was aimed at stripping Israeli Arabs of their citizenship if they failed to swear allegiance to the Jewish state.

Yisrael Beitenu, Lieberman's ultra-nationalist party, vaulted to third place in last year's elections on a platform that played on the electorate's distrust of Israeli Arabs and their perceived disloyalty to Israel.

Israeli Arabs, who comprise 20 percent of the population and live in some of the country's most under-privileged communities, have resisted such a loyalty oath on the grounds that only a state defined by all its different ethnic groups would make them feel equal.

Adalah, a prominent Israeli Arab advocacy group, said the new policy "requires all non-Jews to identify with Zionism and imposes a political ideology and loyalty to the principles of Judaism and Zionism".

In recent months, the Knesset has introduced a number of bills that have drawn criticism from liberals, not least legislation that would ban anyone from promoting or even supporting boycotts against Israel.

"There's a steady deterioration of Israeli democracy and a steady rise of right-wing ideologies in the Knesset," said Avnery. "Parliament is turning into a danger for Israeli democracy."

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