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Proposed Jewish loyalty oath infringes right to freedom of expression, says MRG

13 October 2010

The Israeli cabinet on 10 October approved a bill that would require all non-Jews taking Israeli citizenship to swear loyalty to Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state".

'The rights to freedom of thought and political expression are enshrined in international human rights law. Spouses of Arab citizens of Israel would be forced to take a stance that they most likely will not wish to make. Such an oath would clearly contravene these rights,' says Carl Söderbergh, Minority Rights Group International's Director of Policy and Communications.

'If the Knesset passes the bill, it would send a very negative signal to a sizeable portion of Israel's population that it is no longer welcome,' Söderbergh added.

Rights groups argue that the loyalty oath bill specifically targets Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, whose "non-Jewish" spouses – Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and other Arab states – are the ones who would be forced to swear the oath.

The bill, which is an amendment to the Citizenship Law, still has to be passed by the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. Twenty-two ministers voted in favour of the bill, whilst eight ministers voted against.

In a press release on Monday, MRG partner organisation, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) said, 'While many democratic states around the world have loyalty oaths, this bill differs in that it forces Arab citizens of Israel to accept their inferiority, inequality and exclusion, as it deems the state as one for Jews only, and serving the Jewish people alone.'

This new amendment is one of a number of Israeli government initiatives targeting Arab citizens of Israel with non-Israeli spouses. A main example of which is the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law of 2003, which bans family unification if the spouse is from the OPT. A new version of the law, passed in 2007, extended the restriction to cover certain countries.

The rights to freedom of thought and political expression are protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. The principles contained in these international texts reinforce the rights of all individuals, and specifically minorities, to their own identity and freedom from the imposition of the views of the majority on them.

Approximately 1.3 million Palestinians or Israeli Arabs are living inside Israel and comprise about 20 per cent of the country's population.