Israel's Cabinet approved a controversial loyalty oath that requires new citizens to pledge allegiance to a "Jewish and democratic" state. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the oath reflects the essence of the State of Israel. Critics countered that it would widen the existing gap between Jews and Arabs.
Mr. Netanyahu told the Cabinet that many in the world are trying to blur the connection between the Jewish people and their national homeland. He said Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and there is no other Jewish state in the world. "Those who wish to join us must recognize this," he said.
The bill, which must be passed by parliament to become law, is largely symbolic because it only applies to new citizens. But Israeli Arabs, who make up 20 percent of the population, and who tend to identify with their Palestinian brothers, describe the loyalty oath as racist.
Israeli-Arab parliamentarian Ahmed Tibi says his people should not have to pledge allegiance to a Jewish state that practices discrimination. He believes the bill could have an impact on Middle East peace talks.
"The Arab states should demand from Israel that any agreement with Israel should include total equal rights for the Arab citizens of the State of Israel."
The loyalty oath is also linked to an Israeli demand in peace talks that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The Palestinians have refused on grounds that it harms the rights of Israeli Arabs, and of Palestinians who seek to return to their former homes in Israel.