Published on
the Toronto Star/Canada

Israeli Bill Would Impose Loyalty Oath on Arab Citizens

Mattie Friedman

Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman is pictured during a meeting in Tel Aviv. (May 21, 2009) Photo: Toronto Star

JERUSALEM - An ultranationalist Israeli party headed by the country's foreign minister said today it plans to introduce a bill making Israeli citizenship contingent on an oath of allegiance, a move targeting the country's Arab minority.

The bill follows a separate proposal Sunday by the same party that would make it illegal for Arabs to mourn the "catastrophe" - the term Palestinians use to describe the exile caused by Israel's founding.

Both proposals by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party focus on the perceived disloyalty of the country's Arab citizens, who form roughly one-fifth of the population. The legislation, which must still pass several hurdles to win final approval, drew harsh criticism from opposition legislators and civil rights groups.

Yisrael Beitenu swept to third place in recent parliamentary elections with a message that suggested Israel's Arabs were an internal threat to the country. It is a senior partner in the coalition government. The loyalty oath was one of its main campaign pledges.

The new legislation would make citizenship contingent on an oath of loyalty to Israel as a "Jewish, Zionist and democratic state," party spokesman Tal Nahum said.

The bill would also allow the government to revoke the citizenship of anyone who does not comply or perform some form of military or national service.

Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has yet to express a position on the matter.

The party's announcement came a day after it introduced a bill that would outlaw Arab demonstrations mourning their defeat and exile in the war that surrounded Israel's establishment in 1948. The bill received preliminary approval from a ministerial forum but still needs to pass repeated readings in parliament before becoming law.

The bill threatens three years in prison to anyone who participates in public protests or commemorations.

"I think we can reach a situation in which citizens of our country will not mark a day of mourning for the establishment of the country they live in," the lawmaker who sponsored the bill, Alex Miller, told Army Radio.

The bills appear not have the support necessary to win parliamentary approval. Nonetheless, they drew furious reactions from Arab parties and civil rights groups.

Arab lawmaker Hana Swaid called Miller's bill "racist," saying it "eliminates the right of Palestinian Arab citizens to pronounce their identity and national feelings."

Although Israel's Arabs, unlike Palestinians in the neighbouring West Bank and Gaza Strip, hold full citizenship rights, they suffer from discrimination and have little identification with a country that defines itself as Jewish.

Mohammed Darawshe of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, which works for coexistence between Jews and Arabs in Israel, said the bills reflect "an ideology imported from dark regimes that have collapsed."

Also today, Israeli aircraft scattered pamphlets over the Gaza Strip warning residents to stay away from the border.

The Arabic pamphlets warned Gazans to stay out of areas 300 metres to 500 metres from the border fence, saying they risk being shot. The military has scattered similar warning pamphlets in the past.

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