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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

[updated] A question of allegiance.. and of common sense

A 'loyalty oath' bill has recently passed an important hurdle in the Knesset on its way to becoming a law.  Naturally, MKs of the Arab parties in the Knesset lost no time in losing their collective minds over the matter.  

How dare the Israeli government demand that people becoming citizens declare an oath of loyalty?! After all, by word and deed, many of these same Arab MKs have demonstrated that they consider it their Allah-given right to be actively disloyal to the State of Israel while benefiting from its protections and largess.

Personally, I think the loyalty oath law could be written in a more universal and inclusive way so as to make it less potentially offensive to the Arabs. 

For instance, as currently written, only those becoming citizens outside the framework of the Law of Return(i.e. non-Jews) would be required to take a loyalty oath. The assumption being that Jews making aliyah under the law of return are somehow already making a defacto pledge of loyalty. This assumption is flawed for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that there is currently no shortage of Jews around the world who are openly antagonistic to the goals and existence of the Jewish State.

So as far as I can see, there would be no downside to making the loyalty oath compulsary for all new citizens, not just non-Jews.

Also, I see no added value in including the idea of swearing allegiance to Israel as a Jewish State, since the Jewish nature of Israel is already embedded in the nation's laws.  So by swearing to uphold the laws of the land you are already recognizing the state as a Jewish one.

[side note:  The same can be said about this nonsense of demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish State.  All we should demand is that they recognizee the State of Israel.  Once they do so, all that matters is how we define ourselves.]

But hey... those are just some of the many reasons I'm not in the Knesset.

But getting back to the Arab opposition to the very concept of a loyalty oath, what is confusing to me is the way the issue is presented in the media.  To a casual, uninformed reader, it would appear that Israel is preparing to impose a fascist policy that is antithetical to modern democracies... as if no other country in the progressive western world requires such an oath.    Hmmmmmm.

U.S. Oath of allegiance made by all naturalized citizens:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God

U.K. oath of allegiance taken by naturalized citizens

I _____ swear by Almighty God [alternate: do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm] that on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her Heirs and Successors, according to law. I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfil my duties and obligations as a British citizen.

[Note:  The same oath is given in Canada with the exception that one may opt to say it in badly pronounced French]

Norwegian Oath of allegiance (translated)

As a citizen of Norway I pledge loyalty to my country Norway and to the Norwegian society, and I support democracy and human rights and will respect the laws of the country.

Australian Pledge of Commitment

From this time forward, under God,
I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people,
whose democratic beliefs I share,
whose rights and liberties I respect, and
whose laws I will uphold and obey.

I could go on, but you get the point.   You want to sleep warm and comfy under the blanket of a country's laws and protections?  You must swear to uphold and abide by those laws, and to be a loyal citizen.

But in the end, all this talk of oath-taking comes down to the central issue of what value the oath taker places on his/her 'word'.    This was most recently highlighted in the sentencing of Times Square bomber Feisal Shahzad last week:

While speaking to the court about how how Islam would ultimately conquer the west, Shahzad was interrupted by the jusge who asked him if he had sworn allegiance to the U.S. when he became a naturalized citizen the previous year. 

Shahzad responded, "I did swear, but I did not mean it".

And therein lies the problem of demanding that Muslims take an oath of loyalty (or of any sort, for that matter).  According to Islam, a Muslim may tell a lie anytime that they perceive that their own well-being, or the well-being of Islam, is threatened. There is an excellent discussion of the status of lies and lying in Islamic law here that our lawmakers would do well to read.

In another recent trial of a Muslim accused of terrorism - this one in Virginia - the prosecutor made the following statement to the jury:

"The Qur'an says that "any one who, after accepting faith in Allah, utters Unbelief - except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in Faith - but such as open their breast to Unbelief, on them is Wrath from Allah, and theirs will be a dreadful Penalty" (16:106). So those who utter unbelief under compulsion are exempt from the dreadful penalty. How can someone who believes this be expected to honor an oath to tell the truth on the witness stand, when to do so could put him in jeopardy?"

Apparently the jury agreed, because the defendant was convicted [source]

This all comes down to something called 'Hudaibiya' which is the concept that gives Muslims the right - even the obligation - to lie to infidels.

The word 'Hudaibiya' itself refers to a truce Mohammad made with a certain Jewish tribe of Banu Quraizah, wherein Mohammad ordered Muslims to lie to the Jews and say they renounced Islam so they could infiltrate as spies, and setup an ambush to break the truce.

[Here is the source for that quoteas well as the history behind the practice of "Hudaibiya".]

Bottom line, IMHO, arguing over the implementation of a loyalty oath is an exercise in futility much like arguing over how many fairies can dance on the head of a pin... for the simple reason that it presupposes that fairies actually exist.

BTW, lest anyone think I'm simply a bigot, I hold no illusions about the oaths given and taken by non-Muslims either.  In most legal systems witnesses and defendants are required to take an oath to tell the truth.  Some systems provide protections against self incrimination under oath, but even that is a flimsy shield to hide behind since it reveals nearly as much as it obscures.

But in practice, most guilty people (and those with their own agenda and/or ulterior motive) lie under oath in order to achieve their own aims.  And one would have to admit that there is little downside to doing so. 

If you are acquitted based on perjured testimony, you still get to to go free.  And if you are convicted, the court is unlikely to go to the time and expense of charging you with the additional count of perjury when they presumably have you on something more serious.

So where do I stand on all this oath-taking, finger-crossing, etc.?

I believe that all citizens of Israel  - Jews and non-Jes alike... particularly those aspiring to hold public office - should be required to take a loyalty oath similar to those taken in the UK, US and other western democracies. 

Does it matter whether those taking these oaths actually mean it?  Of course not.  But, it does give some teeth to the treason laws if/when, by word or deed, a citizen of the State of Israel is found to be acting against the interests and/or security of the State.

Now you say something.

Update:  My friend Lynn, the owner and operator of the excellent 'In Context' blog offered the following correction (which I deeply appreciate):

First, greetings and best wishes.
And now a respectful correction.  There is no "concept" or "practice" in Islam known as "Hudaibiya."  That Live Leak page you link to is repeating a fallacy which has somehow started spreading on the internet that confuses the invocation of the Treaty of Hudaibiya (which it more or less correctly describes), with the concept and practice of "taqiyya," which refers to permissible or obligatory deception in the service of Islam.  The latter is also the concept that was referred to (but mentioned by name only in the comments) in the Jihad Watch article you linked to.  Robert Spencer has, however, posted a great deal specifically about the practice of taqiyya (here, for example), the existence of which, consistent with its own precept, is often denied by those who practice it.
There's also an excellent article about it here.
As for the Treaty of Hudaibiya and its use by Israel's enemies, Daniel Pipes published this fine exposition about it more than a decade ago.  Again, it is often invoked as a sort of code, as it was by Arafat, to indicate to the Muslim audience that the words of "peace" one is speaking to a non-Muslim audience are only a matter of delay and deception.
In summary, it would probably be correct to say that the invocation of the Treaty of Hubaibiya is often used as a tool in the practice of taqiyya.  But they are not and do not refer to the same thing.  I hope this is helpful.

Posted by David Bogner on October 13, 2010 | Permalink


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In the end, domestic and foreign pressure will force a compromise wherein the oath will be obligatory also on Jews. The result will be that those who are the intended targets of this law will be unaffected because they'd swear the moon is made of green cheese if it would serve their purposes. And this law will add absolutely no teeth to treason laws, which are already strong enough and never enforced. On the other hand, Jews, who are sticklers about oaths and the like, will be the only ones who refuse to take such an oath. In short, dumb law.

As for your side note, you couldn't be more wrong. Think of it this way. Your neighbor thinks he should be living in your house and he regularly vandalizes it and harasses your family. You offer him your den, if he'll make peace with you. He tells you he'll take the den as a down-payment and he'll recognize that the house is a house, but reserves the right to make further demands so long as he has grievances. Among his remaining grievances are that while he recognizes that the house is a house, he doesn't recognize that it's your house. When you say "all that matters is how we define ourselves", you are assuming a certain "we" that is not agreed.

Posted by: Ben Chorin | Oct 13, 2010 1:27:56 PM

there would be no downside to making the loyalty oath compulsary for all new citizens, not just non-Jews. This makes sense.

Posted by: Ilana-Davitata | Oct 13, 2010 3:13:26 PM

The oath should be incumbent on everyone or no one. Anything else is not fair.

Posted by: Mark | Oct 13, 2010 5:43:41 PM

I see nothing against the oath being applied to all new citizens. The Arabs have to recognize there is such a thing as a Jewish People before they can recognize a Jewish State.I don`t see them agreeing to either in the near future.So when people speak about"2 states for 2 peoples",they must know that one side has never agreed with this premise.

Posted by: Ed | Oct 13, 2010 5:52:06 PM

As you have pointed out, an oath is strikingly ineffective. An example is the Arab and Haredi MKs who swear allegiance to the Laws of Israel to which they hold no allegiance.

2 quick technical points on the Bill itself:
1) The existing law of non-Oleh immigration enacted in 192 as an amendment to the law of the return requires only non-Oleh immigrants to take a pledge of allegiance. The only change that proposed by the current bill which passed the cabinet is to add the words "as a Jewish and Democratic state" to the existing oath- and to administer it to the same group required to take an oath of allegiance for the last 58 years.
2) It bears pointing out that the reason the law is not- and will never be- applied uniformly is because the Haredim refuse to swear allegiance to the State of Israel.

It's worth noting that the Palestinian Authority's official negotiating position is to simultaneously demand an officially Muslim Palestinian State devoid of any Jewish presence, while at the same time demand a right of return to Israel of all refugees dating back not 1967 but to 1948.

The purpose of the law is to stake Israel's negotiating position that Israel must remain a Jewish state which explicitly disclaims a Palestinian right of return- not to effectively exclude disloyal immigrants- a goal at which the oath would be strikingly ineffective.

That is why PM Netanyahu has conditioned an additional 60 building freeze on Palestinian recognition of Israel's Jewishness- and why the PA has rejected that offer.

Posted by: Noah Roth | Oct 13, 2010 6:39:16 PM

Agree that all citizens, not just ethnic or religious minorities, need to take a loyalty oath. Surprised it's not already mandatory when people become citizens. As you point out, free countries routinely require it. Maybe chareidim would have a problem is the reason why it hasn't been proposed for non-Arabs? As to whether it does any practical good is a different discussion. Personally, I think not -- a traitor is going to be a traitor.

Posted by: Ari | Oct 13, 2010 6:41:48 PM

Lose the Jewish part of the oath. It is a callous political maneuver to placate a part of the present governing coalition.
If you removed that clause, it not be objectionable.
I didn't see a religion caveat in any of the other national oaths you cited from democracies.

Posted by: Larry | Oct 13, 2010 7:01:50 PM

Please insert the word "would" at the appropriate place in my last comment.

Posted by: Larry | Oct 13, 2010 7:02:43 PM

When you say "all that matters is how we define ourselves", you are assuming a certain "we" that is not agreed.

You can't get caught up in whether all parties agree as to how you are to be defined. Sometimes you do it and move on because over time the fence sitters come to agree with your definition and those are the people we need.

Posted by: Jack | Oct 13, 2010 7:09:46 PM

Noah Roth - As you have pointed out, an oath is strikingly ineffective.

Maybe l'chatchila it's ineffective, but b'dieved it can be very effective in a court of law when attempting to rescind ones citizenship (after a person takes action indicating that their oath was a lie).

2) It bears pointing out that the reason the law is not- and will never be- applied uniformly is because the Haredim refuse to swear allegiance to the State of Israel.

Maybe people who don't swear allegiance to the state don't belong in the state. Or at least the state may permit them entry as a legal alien without the privilege of voting for political representation. Hack, that might solve other problems as well :-)

Posted by: Mark | Oct 13, 2010 7:16:02 PM

The point, I believe, in asking the PA to recognize that Israel is a Jewish State, is to make an end to claims, and an end to trying to change Israel from a Jewish State to a Muslim State.

Posted by: Freddy | Oct 13, 2010 11:01:41 PM

I thought the Australian oath was:

Australia, Australia, Australia, we love you, A-Men,

Posted by: Jordan Hirsch | Oct 14, 2010 6:52:25 PM

Great post. How many Israeli Jewish Lefties would swear their allegiance?

Posted by: Batya | Oct 17, 2010 7:30:37 AM

Batya ... Actually, probably most of them. Few people on the left or right consider themselves to be unpatriotic or disloyal citizens. They just have a different idea of what is good for the country.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Oct 17, 2010 7:43:11 AM

I know I'm very late, but thank you, Dave, for that last comment you made. Unfortunately, your point is lost on many people.

Posted by: LARRY | Oct 18, 2010 6:03:58 PM

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