Sunday, February 22, 2009

Of Loyalty Oaths and Charedim

The Israeli elections have once again produced interesting circumstances. As it stands now Tzipi Livni is being referred to as Tzippi Gore. That’s because her party, Kadima received the the largest plurality of votes - but she will very likely not be the next Prime Minister.

That’s because that usually goes to the party that can best put together a ruling majority of at least Kenesset 61 seats. I don’t recall how far back in history one has to go to find a single party winning enough votes to provide that number. In the last few decades, it has been partnerships with other parties that has given a party leader the office of Prime Minister.

The one given the opportunity to do that usually goes to the winner of the most seats. That would be Mrs. Livni. But it is largely believed that the best chance for putting together a ruling coalition is in the hands of Benjamin Netanyahu.

That’s because the party with the largest number of seats after Likud (Netanyahu) and Kadima (Livni) is the Yisrael Beitenu party of Avigdor Lieberman - a very right wing party has indicated it will join only Likud and not Kadima. So Mr. Netanyahu was given the first try at forming a coalition.

Who else will join that coalition remains to be seen. There is talk of Shas being a part of that.

But the focus of this post is not whether any of the religious parties will have a say in the next government. The focus is on one of the campaign promises made by Avigdor Lieberman. He has said that all citizens should be required to take a loyalty oath before being allowed to vote.

Some one may suggest that this is a totalitarian idea and against the principles of democracy that Israel stands for. But is that really true?

I remember when I was in elementary school. We all had to begin our school day with the ‘pledge of allegiance’. For those too young to remember it was a formula statement pledging allegiance to the United States of America. It was integral part of school life then and no one ever had any problems reciting it. Including the Charedi day school I attended. We said it every day.

The purpose as I understand it is to require Arab Israeli citizens to make that pledge. Some in Israel see Israeli Arabs as a sort of fifth column or as having dual loyalty to Israel and to the Palestinian cause. There is indeed a feeling among many Israeli Arabs who at one time were loyal citizens of Israel that they are only second class citizens. Current events (ala the possibility of a Palestinian State) have awakened national aspirations in them. That raises questions about their status as loyal Israelis). Mr. Lieberman believes that they must therefore be required to take a loyalty oath.

The problem is that if every citizen is required to take such an oath, How will Charedim view this? What will they do? Will they take it? Or will their antipathy to the state prevent them from doing so? Are there Halachic considerations? Can a religious Jew pledge loyalty to a state that is not Halachic? What if they refuse to take the oath. Should they be disenfranchised?

I personally do not see this as a problem - anymore than it was a problem for a religious Jew to say the pledge of allegiance in America. I therefore think that a loyalty oath to the State of Israel is not an unreasonable request. I’m not sure if that will help solve any problems with Israeli Arabs but taking such an oath - or in the alternative - pledging allegiance if one refuses to take an oath – should not be a religious problem at all. I certainly hope that the Charedi leadership doesn’t make it one if it ever comes to pass.