And the State, Is It Loyal?

The Demand of a Loyalty Oath in Israel Has Ominous Similarities to the Demands Made by Mussolini's Italy

Several weeks ago, hundreds of students demonstrated in front of Ben-Gurion University’s administration building. About a third of the protestors were expressing their opposition to the government’s decision to attack the relief flotilla, while the remaining two thirds came to support the government. At one point the pro-government protesters began chanting: ‘No citizenship without loyalty!’

While loyalty is no doubt an important form of relationship both in the private and public spheres, unpacking its precise meaning in the Israeli context reveals a disturbing process whereby the democratic understanding of politics is being inverted.

As Israeli citizens, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman want us to prove our loyalty to the flag by supporting a policy of oppression and humiliation. We must champion the separation barrier in Bi’lin and in other places throughout the West Bank. We have to defend the brutal destruction of unrecognized Bedouin villages, and the ongoing land grab both inside Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We must support the checkpoints and the silent transfer in East Jerusalem. We are also expected to bow our heads and remain silent every time government ministers, Knesset members and public officials make racist statements against Arab citizens. We must support the neo-liberal policies that continuously oppress Israel’s poor, and we are obliged to give our blessing to the imprisonment of Gaza Strip’s 1.5 million residents.

Hearing the chants at the recent demonstration, I understood that I will never be able to accept this disastrously myopic form of loyalty. I refuse to be loyal to a policy of humiliation, racism and discrimination. And, yet, loyalty is an important issue that urgently needs to be discussed because ultimately there is a firm link between the state and loyalty. The pressing questions that need to be addressed are: What is the meaning of loyalty? And who is supposed to be loyal to whom?

Surprisingly, the answer to these questions is not particularly complex. According to the republican tradition, the state is first and foremost obliged to be loyal to its citizenry and is held accountable for inequities and injustices. Yet we are currently witnessing a complete reversal of the republican relationship between state and loyalty and the adoption, instead, of a proto-fascist approach.

Perhaps the most disturbing feature of this trend is that it is taking place on all levels of Israeli society. From the ongoing attacks against Israeli human rights organizations spearheaded by NGO Monitor and Im Tirzu, through the police response to the peaceful protests in Sheik Jarrah, and all the way to the McCarthyist atmosphere in the Knesset Education Committee, one witnesses how elements within civil society, the executive branch and the legislative branch are all working according to a logic similar to the one that informed Mussolini’s Italy. All of these elements expect citizens to swear loyalty to the state regardless of the government’s policies.

However, because loyalty is a vital component of politics, we need to strive to ensure that the call for loyalty meet the requirements of a democratic rather than a fascist logic. We must demand that the state be loyal to all of its citizens, regardless of race, color, sex, gender, language, religion, political opinions, national or social origin, property, or birth status.

A state that is loyal to its citizens does not discriminate between Jews and Arabs, does not expropriate land from Muslims and Christians, does not humiliate and trample on the lower classes, and does not brutally oppress the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. A state of this sort protects the rights of each and every citizen and, thus, will not need to demand loyalty because it will receive loyalty on a silver platter.

Yes, I too understand the importance of loyalty. But the appropriate chant is not ‘No citizenship without loyalty!’ but rather “Loyalty to every citizen!”

Neve Gordon is the author of Israel's Occupation and can be reached through his website. Read other articles by Neve.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Ismail Zayid said on August 19th, 2010 at 10:15am #

    As Neve Gordon accurately explains, this new call, by ardent Zionist supporters and Israeli government officials, for an oath of loyalty for Israel as a Jewish state, is simply calling on Israeli citizens, including its Muslim and Christian citizens, to support the Israeli practices of racism and violation of the basic human rights of many of its citizens.
    The call must be for Israel to treat all its citizens equally with no discrimination based on ethnicity or religion.

  2. mebosa.ritchie said on August 19th, 2010 at 3:24pm #

    would you also call for iran,saudi arabia,syria and all the other 22 arab states to treat all its citizens equally with no discrimination based on ethnicity and religion

  3. Ismail Zayid said on August 21st, 2010 at 1:45pm #

    Dear mebosa.ritchie,
    Yes, I would call on all states and authorities, Arabs and others, to treat all their citizens and all human beings with equality and no discrimination, and not to illegally- occupy other people and subject them to oppressive occupation.

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain said on August 23rd, 2010 at 1:47am #

    These developments are welcome.The best hope for Israel’s transformation into a decent society is that the human fraction of Jewry realise that the dominance of religiously zealous racists and fascists, who despise the rest of humanity as a type of ‘two-legged animal’,and who have no qualms in killing, exploiting and manipulating them, is the greatest threat to Jews everywhere. The continued descent of Israel into more and more barbarous behaviour,more and more blatant corruption of Western societies and politics and more and more deliberate fomenting of religious and racial hatred guarantees not Israel’s survival as a nasty little Judaic Reich, complete with its own Nuremberg Laws to ensure ‘racial purity’, its own ‘lebensraum in the East’ and its own invincible Judaic Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe terrorising the ‘human dust’ of the region (let alone its kosher thermonuclear arsenal threatening the world), but Israel’s eventual destruction.After all, a cancer like Israel eithers kills its host, or provokes an immune response that sees it destroyed. Unfortunately,we have reached the stage where Israel’s growing fascism, the overwhelming influence of the Zionist Lobbies who control the West through Jewish money-power and the collapse of US global hegemony, have conspired to make ‘spontaneous remission’ ie a miracle, our only hope of averting a new world, religious and civilizational, world war.