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Knesset OKs loyalty pledge for Israeli diplomats

"It is the most basic thing that whoever is sent to represent Israel recognizes the state as Jewish and democratic," said Israel's outgoing foreign minister.

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi attends a Meretz faction meeting at the Knesset, June 13, 2022. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi attends a Meretz faction meeting at the Knesset, June 13, 2022. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.

Israel’s parliament on Wednesday gave final approval to a law requiring diplomats representing the country abroad to pledge allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Backed by former Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen, who was officially replaced by Israel Katz on Tuesday, the amendment to the Civil Service Law requires that diplomats swear allegiance before taking up a post as head of a diplomatic mission or consulate.

The text of the new oath reads: “I pledge to bear allegiance to the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” the Knesset said.

“The head of a diplomatic or consular mission is the official and senior representative of the sovereign in a foreign state, who represents, by nature of his post, the positions of the state and the government abroad and [speaks] in its name,” the law’s explanatory notes explain.

“Given his responsibility and obligation to express faithfully the government’s policy… it is proposed to add to the Civil Service Law (Appointments), in addition to the existing declaration requirement applying to all civil servants, section 34a,” the notes add.

Under existing legislation, all civil servants are already obliged to promise to “keep faith with Israel and its laws and fulfill any duty imposed on me as a civil servant honestly and faithfully.”

On Monday, Cohen defended the proposed amendment in front of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

“It is the most basic thing that whoever is sent to represent Israel recognizes the state as Jewish and democratic. This is a basic thing on which there is agreement from both the right and the left. There are over 200 countries in the world, but only one is Jewish and democratic,” the outgoing foreign minister told lawmakers.

Cohen noted that in 2022, “there was an intent to appoint [former Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi] as Israel’s consul-general in Shanghai, and she did not recognize the state as a Jewish and democratic state, called IDF soldiers derogatory names and did not respect the state’s symbols.”

In February 2022, Zoabi voted against then-Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett’s coalition’s attempt to pass a new military draft law, resulting in an offer for her to take up the position of consul to Shanghai, China, in exchange for future support for the coalition.

Benjamin Netanyahu, who served as opposition leader at the time, called Zoabi’s appointment a “scandal.

“It is inconceivable that the person representing Israel in one of the important world powers is someone who doesn’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state and opposes its national anthem,” he tweeted, demanding that foreign minister Yair Lapid cancel her appointment.

Zoabi eventually withdrew her nomination for the post and left the Bennet-Lapid government, contributing to its collapse several weeks later.

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