My Day in Loyalty Court–“Necessary Stories” column, Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

     <em>The three judges looked at me impassively.</em>
The three judges looked at me impassively.
“What number you got?” asked the puffy-eyed guy sitting in the metal chair next to me. He hadn’t shaved in two days, from the looks of it; his clothes were stained and his breath bad. Blue and white stripes flashed across the LCD screen hanging on the far wall of the Ministry of Interior waiting room in downtown Jerusalem, then resolved themselves into the digits 2399.

“Next but one,” I said. “Is something wrong?”

“It’s my third time,” he said. His eyes searched the floor. “I just can’t seem to get it right.”
Now it was 2400.

“I gotta get it right,” he said desperately. “Help me get it right.”

But my number had appeared on the screen. I got up and strode confidently into the room where I would take my loyalty oath.

“Remain standing,” said the thickset policewoman who closed the door behind me. I was in a small courtroom. At the high bench before me were three figures of stern demeanor, their names engraved on the brass plates on the bench before them. On the left sat Loyalty Justice Yehuda Shomron, a heavyset man with a bushy gray beard and a large knitted kipa; on the right, Loyalty Justice Nimrod Re’alitisho, a young man of about 30 with a ponytail and a fashionable four-day growth of beard. In between them sat Presiding Loyalty Justice Manya Porat, a dour woman with close-cropped hair and a lined face. She looked up from the papers in front of her, surveyed me from head to ankle, and curtly asked: “Watzman?”

That’s right,” I said jauntily.

“Yes, your Honor,” the policewoman corrected me.

I found myself in the crossfire of three judicial glares.

“Yes, your Honor,” I repeated, with all due humility.

“And what brings you here, Watzman?” Justice Porat asked me.

I puffed up my chest. “I have come,” I said confidently, “to declare my loyalty to the State of Israel.”

Identity Justice Re’alitisho leaned back in his leather chair and smiled. “And why,” he asked me, “do you feel a need to declare your loyalty to the state of Israel?”

“Being a good citizen,” I said, “and seeing as our duly-elected parliament has legislated that citizenship is conditional on taking a loyalty oath, I have come to declare my allegiance to the Jewish state.”

The three judges looked at me impassively. It was the first time that a shadow of doubt fell across my mind. I steeled myself and repeated:

“Being a good citizen…”

Identity Justice Shomron cut me off. “We’re the ones who will decide if you are good citizen.”

“But I am,” I said. “I sing ‘Hatikvah.’ I pay my taxes. I served in the army.”

Identity Justice Re’alitisho’s ponytail undulated as he guffawed. “He pays his taxes!” he noted to his colleagues. “And he claims to be Israeli.”

Justice Porat brought down her gavel three times, hard. “I will not have levity in my courtroom,” she announced, eyeing her younger colleague. “Now let us proceed with the matter at hand. Watzman, before we allow you to swear your fealty to the state of Israel, we need to establish some facts. Mr. Justice Shomron, would you like to begin?”

“Thank you,” said the judge with the large kipah. He opened the large dossier in front of him. “Watzman, my clerk has obtained a large number of documents in which you advocate handing over the holy, historic territories of Judea and Samaria to Israel’s mortal enemies. Is that correct?”

“Well,” I said, “I believe that Israel’s future as a Jewish state depends on…”

“Yes or no, please. No equivocation.”

I looked nervously at the impassive faces before me. “Yes,” I send, with a quaver in my voice.

“And you call yourself a Zionist.” Justice Shomron shook his head sadly. “I also see that you have advocated the dismantling of the official state rabbinate. Would you care to deny that?”

My knees felt weak. “No,” I muttered.

“Excuse me?” Justice Shomron asked, cupping his hand to his ear.

“Listen, I’m a good Jew,” I protested. “I observe the Sabbath. I eat kosher.”

“But you used to drive to synagogue.”

“Yes, but that was a long time ago. It’s how I was brought up!”

“Not at all surprising,” said Identity Justice Shomron. “Mrs. Justice Porat, I have taken the liberty of tracing Watzman’s ancestry, along the matrilineal line, back to the granting of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. And I have two testimonies to the fact that, when God and Moses pronounced the Ten Commandments before the assembled Children of Israel, Watzman’s maternal ancestor’s response was ‘Oof!’ We may take this to indicate that she did not accept the yoke of the Torah and mitzvot. I submit that the man before us is neither a Zionist nor a Jew.”

“Thank you, Identity Justice Shomron,” Porat said. “Identity Justice Re’alitisho, would you like to continue?”

“I’m fascinated by the results of Justice Shomron’s investigation,” the young judge said, “because my own research, while pursued in quite a different direction, leads to much the same conclusion.”

“But this is outrageous,” I objected.

Justice Porat banged her gavel. “If you don’t behave yourself, I’ll jail you for contempt!”

“My informers indicate that Watzman here refrains from engaging in a number of pastimes that our society views as defining characteristics of Israeli identity. Watzman, when was the last time you visited a pub?”

“A pub?” I asked.

“And I see that you did not watch a single episode of ‘Big Brother.’”

“I prefer to read,” I said.

“And can it be true that you don’t boast to your friends about your sexual conquests?”

“Conquests? I …”

“Watzman has been faithful to the same woman for twenty-five years,” the young identity justice informed his colleagues with disdain. “We have no recorded evidence of any sleeping around.”

“It’s none of your business!” I exclaimed.

“You only say that because you’ve got nothing to brag about.” He shook his head in pity. “You didn’t even try.”

“And Mrs. Identity Justice Porat, are you aware that Watzman has never been to Thailand? Not even Peru.”

“Not even Peru?” Porat gasped.

“Not even Peru,” Identity Justice Re’alitisho stated. “Need I say more?”

“I’d like to thank my colleagues for their thorough investigation,” Justice Porat said. “Now I have a few questions of my own.”

“I’m not feeling well. May I sit down?” I asked.

“You’ll be finished in just a moment,” the presiding justice said. “Watzman, you claim to be Israeli, is that correct?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Then perhaps you could recite for us Natan Alterman’s poem ‘The Silver Tray.’”

I gripped the bar before me.

“Watzman?”
“I can’t.”

“Your country’s Declaration of Independence?”

I shook my head.

“Perhaps you’d rather sing? Maybe the Palmach anthem?”

“I don’t know it by heart.”

Justice Porat cast a knowing glance at her two colleagues. “What do you know by heart, Watzman?”

“Um … well, I used to know ‘The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.’”

“Paul Revere. I see.” She clasped her hands in front of her and addressed her colleagues. “What say you?”

“He’s a traitor to the Land of Israel and his Jewish ancestry is doubtful,” Identity Justice Shomron said.

“His everyday conduct is notably un-Israeli,” Identity Justice Re’alitisho observed.

“His knowledge of the classic texts of Zionism is virtually nil,” Presiding Identity Justice Porat pronounced.

They shook their heads in unison. Justice Porat banged her gavel three times, slowly. I jumped at each resounding crack.

“This loyalty court hereby declares you un-Israeli,” ruled Justice Porat. She and her colleagues stood and filed out of the courtroom.

I looked desperately at the policewoman. “What does it mean?” I cried.

“Prime Minister Lieberman is quite clear about that,” she said. “If you aren’t a true Israeli, you cannot enjoy the benefits of Israeli citizenship. You can’t vote, receive social security payments or health care, or enjoy other government services. Furthermore, your home may be annexed to the Palestinian state.”

***

“What number you got?” I asked the guy in the metal chair next to me. I envied his clean-cut, neat appearance, his innocent enthusiasm. Me, I hadn’t shaved for four days or showered in two. Blue and white stripes flashed across the LCD screen hanging on the far wall, then resolved themselves into the digits 2399.

“Next but one,” he said. “Is something the matter?”

“It’s my third time,” I said. My eyes searched the floor. “I just can’t seem to get it right.”

Now it was 2400.

“I gotta get it right,” I said desperately. “Help me get it right.”

Links to more Necessary Stories columns

9 thoughts on “My Day in Loyalty Court–“Necessary Stories” column, Jerusalem Report

  1. Why not something simple like:

    “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the republic of Israel for which it stands: one Nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.”

    or

    “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 laws of the republic of Israel 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 Israel when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of Israel 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.”

    It works for that democracy the United States of America, why not for Israel?

    Don’t you feel a little silly now?

  2. Yisrael:

    Your comments on the Pledge well-put and in reality most Americans are not put off by the occasional social obligation of reciting it. But it remains a social contract of sorts. That is it.

    The “under God” line was added within the last 50 years by a Communist-weary Congress. I personally know a veteran awarded a medal for heroism that has personally stated that he would prefer to turn his back on the flag when he hears that line.

    The second oath, I presume, relates to loyalty. Natural born citizens, like me, have never recited it. Naturalized citizens who do – will probably never have to worry about being drafted.

    I don’t know. I felt the article was something akin to Orwellian tone meets satire. Given some of the articles I have read regarding making people move around wholesale or being required to take loyalty oaths, I’m wondering . . . and observing.

    My personal solution is that if there is a draft in my country (as currently exists in your country) every man of sound mind and sound body will serve. No cop-outs for education or industry or ethnicity. When someone has a stake in the outcome of a situation, he usually starts to care about how to influence it to extract a positive outcome.

  3. Let’s see. The first one is recited by children in (some) schools. The second one is recited by a foreign national who wants to receive American citizenship.

    But Israel’s Palestinian citizens aren’t children, and they’re not foreign nationals.

    Also, gasp, your pledge and your oath don’t specify that Israel is a Jewish state. Are you willing to let the Arabs get away with that?

    So I guess what we have here is the abnihilisation of the metaphor. Better luck next time!

  4. Haim’s last comment is spot on. The whole “loyalty oath” debate isn’t about pledging allegiance to the flag, or support and defend the laws of the republic.

    An allegiance pledge as the one you quote cites what can be considered the basic, fundamental elements of citizenship – which I’m fairly sure are not really problematic, and reflect political positions more than serious discord.

    A few years back, Lieberman made a big fuss by asking the Palestinians (the Palestinian government, not Israel’s citizens) to recognise “the Jewishness” of the State of Israel. I think that was right before the Annapolis round of meetings.

    This is what the pledge we’re debating now is about.
    It’s quite like asking Blacks to “pledge allegiance to the United States of America, as a White nation, under God” or something. It’s not about the fundamentals of the State: it’s about kneeling before the status-quo. Never has the cynical adage of ‘democracy is the dictatorship of the majority’ held more truth.
    Such a demand would surely general dissent. Unavoidably so.

    And, ‘liberty and justice for all’? Ha. When that happens…

  5. I liked it, Haim. And Mo-ha-med nailed it with the analogy to blacks pledging allegiance to a “white American nation”. You both rock. Lieberman…does not. He’s a disgrace, and so is the oath.

  6. It’s just too weird – here we are only 65 years from the end of Nazi Germany and we have the descendants of those who were so savagely rejected as not-German now demanding a Jewish distinction as the uber-people of a nation. I’m no psychologist, but it sure looks like some strange kind of compensation for demons in the head.

    The ghosts of German Jews and the living Israeli and OT Palestinians can all say in chorus “hey! We live here!” Those crazies in the Knesset – have they no shame?

    A pathetic American footnote – a debate for an Illinois seat in the U.S. Congress featured the two Jewish candidates, a Democrat and a Republican talking of their agreement on support for Israel.

    But an encouraging second footnote – I walked with a pro-Palestinian group in Chicago yesterday. We had about 125 walkers and the opposition (walking on the opposite side of the street) consisted of two individuals carrying a giant American and a giant Israeli flag.

    The Knesset Krazies may break the power of the Israel lobby yet.

  7. Frankly, I think the loyalty oath is a logical extension of the ideology that underpins Zionism and Israeli citizenship. It’s just making more explicit the notion that Israel is first and foremost a country for a single entho-religious group (self-defined): Jews.

    I’m for the oath in that it illustrates exactly how illiberal Israeli notions of citizenship are and underlines that at least on this front, Americans and Israelis don’t really share the same values.

    Nativist know-nothings notwithstanding, American citizenship is inclusive and based around a fundamentally political distinction, whereas Israeli citizenship gives primacy to a single group to the exclusion of ethnicities or religions.

  8. Timerman’s torturers meet Mel Brooks on the field of essay. Now – I can’t wait for this subject to show up in Arab Labor: “Tell me Sir, do you drive a 20-year old Suburu?”

  9. Until, Sean, above, mentioned it, I had not considered some of the present, surging, American right Nativist Know-Nothings (a quasi party label from the American 1850’s, favoring residents with mutli-generation ancestors in the US, excluding those called “American Indian”), but it fits well: in Arizona, one State Legislator called for refusing birth certificates to those born of illegal resident parents, even though the 14th Amendment categorically states all born under American jurisdiction are US citizens. Several presently popular proposals in the States embrace the same underlying exclusivism–even, gasp of gasps, in health care. Please don’t shoot me.

    Target of the loyalty oath in Isreal is not the Arab population as such; they are already excluded in many ways. For me, the effective target is/are those Israelis who will bear the law change, thereby further isolating calls for reform both internally in Israel and in the occupatied territory. As Haim’s piece implies, focus on loyalty numbs the mind. That an immigrant party demands such an oath flags significant conflict within Israeli society, with both the place of Arab citizens and occupied land something of a surogate issue. Under a two State solution, the nature of Israel is no concern of the other State; the present Israeli leadership wants to flag internal dissent as identical to alien dissent. Israel is a war polity, perceptually. War leverges internal control. What, exactly, does it mean to be Jewish? Will this question not be raised after the oath?

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