Prime Minister Netanyahu, who previously backed an amendment to Israel’s Citizenship Law that would have required non-Jewish prospective immigrants to pledge allegiance to a “Jewish and democratic state,” has now—after the cabinet already passed the prior version, which is favored by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party—submitted an amendment that would require the so-called “loyalty oath” of all prospective immigrants, including Jews. If those on the left are not fully satisfied with the change, they ought nonetheless appreciate its less illiberal nature.
Some, such as Tablet Magazine’s Liel Leibovitz (who yesterday polemicized against the oath) and the protestors who thronged Tel Aviv’s streets this past weekend will still say any oath at all is too much. And others, including Tablet Magazine Mideast columnist Lee Smith, will argue the oath is unremarkable, and restricting it to non-Jews follows the established, broadly observed principle of jus sanguinis. Actually, the group that most prominently advocated the compromise that Bibi has now adopted is the Anti-Defamation League, whose director, Abraham Foxman, met with Netanyahu yesterday in Israel.
But enough of the substance—what about the politics? When Netanyahu first backed the hardline version of the oath, I (and many others) guessed it was an effort to buy credibility with the right in order to extend the settlement freeze. It’s nearly two weeks later, though, and Netanyahu was able to do no more than futilely offer an extension in exchange for Palestinian recognition of Israel’s Jewish character. So: Is Bibi’s newfound willingness to make the oath more moderate a sign that bargaining with it is not worthwhile, because the extension is, officially, a lost cause?