Thousands march against proposed loyalty oath

Thousands march against proposed loyalty oath

JERUSALEM — Thousands of Israeli Jews and Arabs demonstrated in Tel Aviv against a proposed loyalty oath for new non-Jewish citizens.

The protesters marched Saturday night carrying signs reading “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies” and “In Nuremberg it also began with legislation!”

Many of the demonstrators were from the Arab-Israeli Hadash Party and the left-wing Meretz Party, who co-sponsored the march from Gan Meir Park to the Kirya Defense Ministry headquarters under the banner “Together Against Racism — Arab and Jewish March for Democracy.”

The proposed amendment, which would require non-Jewish candidates for citizenship to pledge loyalty to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state,” was approved last week by Israel’s Cabinet by a vote of 22-8. The amendment advances to the Knesset’s legislative committee before moving on to the full Knesset.

Last Friday, the main body of American Reform rabbis opposed the loyalty oath in a statement saying that it “would turn Israel into the very kind of country which historically Jews themselves have rightly cursed for their unequal treatment of non-Christians and non-Muslims.”

“Already this legislation has sent a message to the 20 percent of Israel’s citizens who are not Jewish that they indeed are permanently ‘other,’ further reinforcing the message of those who would deny that there could ever be co-existence between Jew, Muslim and Christian in a Jewish state,” the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ statement says. “Its enactment would strengthen the enemies of Israel and thus, compromise not only its Jewish democratic character but its security and ultimate future as well.

“More than symbolic loyalty statements, Israel needs its non-Jewish citizens as partners in peace, equally invested in the future of the state.”

The Reform body represents about 2,000 U.S. rabbis.

Meanwhile, British filmmaker Mike Leigh, who is Jewish, canceled a visit to Israel to participate in a film festival and guest lecture at the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem to protest the loyalty oath. He also was scheduled to lecture to Palestinian filmmakers at the Jenin Cinema.

Leigh called the loyalty oath the “last straw,” on top of Israel’s decision to resume building in the West Bank, in a letter to the school’s director, Haaretz reported.

Leigh, who was born to a family with the last name Lieberman, last visited Israel in 1990 and since has refused to return in protest of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, according to Haaretz.

The loyalty oath amendment fulfills part of the government’s coalition agreement with Avidgor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party.