My new column is up at the American Prospect:
Israeli Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog is normally a soporific politician. Dressed up in a suit, he looks and sounds more like a boy about to celebrate his bar mitzvah than like a Cabinet member. Asked for a sound bite on a controversial issue, he’s likely to answer with a tangle of equivocation. Herzog owes his senior status in the Labor Party to legacy — his father’s career in Labor concluded with 10 years as Israel’s figurehead president, his grandfather was Israel’s first chief rabbi — and to his proven willingness to support whoever’s in charge in the party. A key example: Last year he backed party leader Ehud Barak’s decision to join Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, over the objections of Knesset colleagues who recalled that Labor once had principles.
Herzog, therefore, is not a guy you’d expect to use the f-word when describing the country’s direction under that same government. But he did last weekend. “Fascism,” he said, “is licking at the edges of the camp, and we’re not paying attention to it. We’re on a slippery and very dangerous slope.” When Isaac Herzog talks about fascism, something serious has to be wrong.
The immediate cause of Herzog’s warning was a bill that received the Cabinet’s backing Sunday morning, on its way to Knesset approval. An amendment to Israel’s citizenship law, it would change the requirement for naturalization from simply declaring loyalty to Israel — to affirming loyalty to Israel as “a Jewish and democratic state.”
Let me parse that. First, the amendment doesn’t apply to people coming to Israel under the Law of Return, which grants automatic citizenship to Jews or people with Jewish fathers or grandfathers. (The definition of being Jewish, in the law as in traditional Judaism, is having a Jewish mother.) That is, only people with no ethnic connection to being Jewish will have to affirm loyalty to Israel as a “Jewish state.”
Second, the bill requires new citizens to declare fealty to a political stance and is doubly flawed because the meaning of that stance is unclear. …
Read the rest here.