Ramat Gan, Israel — The Israeli cabinet approved a proposal requiring new immigrants to pledge loyalty to the “Jewish and democratic” state on October 10. The bill was greeted by hot and cold receptions from critics in the international community. The bill, which still faces a wider parliamentary vote, passed initially by a 22-8 margin – finding strong domestic opposition from the Labor Party and Israeli Arabs.
Perhaps I am naive, but I was a little chagrined by the amount of negative hoopla the news caused; I always saw Israel as a Jewish state and a democracy — this is what I love about little Israel. But in the unseasonably hot weather and proverbial prickly atmosphere, one should prepare them self to never feel too surprised in this land of mystery.
Fatima, an 18-year-old student of linguistics and English literature at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan said, “I don’t think it makes any change. Everyone here is supposed to say that they swear to the country.” Fatima, donning a lime green hijab and traditional silk black dress spoke over the mellow hum of copy machines amid an ethnically mixed handful of college students. “I don’t know what he [PM Netanyahu] said and what he meant – I don’t know his aim.” She stressed that the facts for her are freely explained on her Facebook page, she is a proud Palestinian.
“The Palestinians have long rejected that, [the Jewishness of Israel]saying Israel may use it as a pretext to deny Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war that created Israel the right to return to their former homes.” wrote Vita Bekker of The National. However, chief of the Fatah-ruling PA, Mahmoud Abbas claimed that Arabs in the “occupied territories” had already done that during the 1993 Oslo Accords. Recent research shows, the ratio of Palestinians in the territories who object to Israel being a Jewish state and those who don’t is almost cut in half – just slightly a larger percent for the latter.
But the law really applies to those who are thinking of immigrating to Israel. Andrea, 40, is a non-Jewish American woman married to an Israeli. She also studies at the university, of which she complains the tuition is too high. “I won’t make Aliyah if I have to swear to a Jewish country.” The two had to marry outside the country, “A rabbi would not recognize our marriage,” she said, “I feel my husband” placed in a “50% tax bracket” and a career military officer for fourteen years “is being discriminated against.”
Then, a week ago, Israeli PM Netanyahu instructed Justice Minister, Ya’akov Ne’eman to prepare a draft bill that would also require Jews to pledge allegiance to Israel “as a Jewish and democratic state”.
Standing outside the university synagogue, without a yamulke on his head, Rotem Nisan, a 25 year-old geography student at the same university as Fatima said, “This is a country of Jews. I have no problem with Muslims and Christians, but if you want residence and an ID, you must be Jewish. To tourists, the country is open.”
The day after we chatted in the Xerox room near the English language building at Bar Ilan University, Fatima sent me a message on Facebook; she had lots more to say:
I just read your article. You have such a nice way in writing. But when I said “I don’t know what he [PM Netanyahu] said and what he meant – I don’t know his aim.” I looked like a very unconscious girl which I am not. I don’t know if this is the right word but when I heard about this law I kinda felt a way of harassment from the government.. that’s why I said I don’t know his aim. If it comes to me, I would highly reject this law because it really against our own believes and thought. Who said that if I want to live in a country i should admit its nationality? so what? go to Canada and see how people leave peacefully and leaving all this political issue behind them, because they want real peace and they are not looking for any excuses to kick their non-Canadian out.”
For an 18-year-old in this country, Fatima’s English is quite good, perhaps better than the average Jewish Israeli 18-year-old. But the average Jewish Israeli 18-year-old would not be studying in the university at the age of 18. They would be serving in the army or doing another form of community service. The message continued:
“I live in Israel, which is for me and for every Palestinian , occupied Palestine, and I will never ever pledge loyalty to this country because it doesn’t reflect me.. Moreover, they should not forget that I was born here, it means that i’m a resident who gets all my absolute rights! and one of my rights in a “democratic country” is my freedom of speech and thinking. How
come they force me to do something I don’t believe in, in a democratic country!?”
In appreciation for giving her honest opinion and feeling so open with me, I responded to Fatima:
“Israel is still a new country. It is a democracy and I think it will always stay that way. Other places in the world aren’t the same, like the Islamic Republic of Iran or occupied Lebanon. But Canada and the United States are democracies which were founded by French, English, German, Dutch and colonizers from elsewhere – and only after much of the native population was displaced, sold off to slavery and killed. You should never feel unsafe or nervous because of your ethnicity. Hopefully we can be friends. And if we all become friends: Jews, Muslims and Christians, then G-D willing there will be peace. And enjoy reading Beowulf!”