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The New Loyalty Oath

Bill would ban East J’lem Arabs from leading tours

Liel Leibovitz
October 28, 2010
The Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem.(Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)
The Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem.(Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)

“Loyalty” is the mot juste in Israel these days: After the controversial bill requiring non-Jewish immigrants (and then all immigrants) to declare loyalty to a Jewish and democratic state was approved by the cabinet earlier this month, a new bill was brought before the Knesset last week that would require that all tourist guides leading tours of Jerusalem be themselves Israeli citizens who have “institutional loyalty” to Israel.

The proposal, initiated by Gideon Ezra of Kadima and supported by a multipartisan slate of legislators, does not mince words. “Some of the residents of Israel, like those in East Jerusalem, often have ‘dual loyalty,’ since they vote in elections of the Palestinian Authority,” it declares. “These residents often present anti-Israeli positions to groups of tourists that they guide. To ensure foreign tourists are exposed to the national Israeli viewpoint, we suggest ruling that travel agencies, and any organization providing tours for foreign tourists, ensure that the groups are accompanied by a tour guide who is an Israeli citizen and has institutional loyalty to the State of Israel.” There’s that word, loyalty.

Apart from the obvious, gaping problems—what, for example, is “the national Israeli viewpoint,” and how does one measure “institutional loyalty” to the state?—Ezra’s proposal will have the concrete effect of causing more than 300 Israeli Arab residents of eastern Jerusalem to losen their jobs as licensed tour guides.

Other countries that require state-appointed, ideologically approved travel guides include North Korea.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.