Afula’s Racist Oath to Preserve Its Jewish Character is Illegal, says AG

The Attorney General has ruled that when members of the Afula City Council added a racist phrase vowing “to preserve the Jewish character of the city” to the usual oath of allegiance to the State of Israel after last year’s local elections, it invalidated the oath.

The Mayor of Afula, Avi Elkabetz (middle) at this year's Mimouna celebration, a North African Jewish tradition marking the end of the week of Passover, in the city's park

The Mayor of Afula, Avi Elkabetz (middle) at this year’s Mimouna celebration, a North African Jewish tradition marking the end of the week of Passover, in the city’s park (Photo: Afula Municipality)

The weeks preceding the 2018 municipal election in Afula, in northern Israel, the council members and Mayor Avi Elkabetz fought against the sales of homes in the city to Arab citizens, and even closed the city park to “outside visitors.” In his election campaign, Elkabetz warned against “the occupation of the park,” which is sometimes used by Arabs from the surrounding communities.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said last week that even though adding the phrase in effect undermined the validity of their declaration of allegiance, his office decided not to require the council members to swear allegiance again. However, his office has made clear to all local authorities that there should be no deviation from the official declaration of allegiance to the state and its laws.

In October 2018, at their first post-election session, the council members promised “to preserve the Jewish character of Afula and to preserve the [religious] status quo.” Hadash lawmaker Yousef Jabareen demanded that Mendelblit invalidate the declaration of allegiance. “There are no words for the severity of the racist oath,” he wrote. “Not only is the declaration invalid because it deviates from the legal wording, but it is a racist, inciting ceremony that is a serious blow to Arab residents of Afula and to the Arab public in general.”

Despite invalidating the addition, the attorney general’s office decided not to demand that the Afula City Council members take the oath of allegiance again, because “it’s possible that the legal situation wasn’t clear at the time,” and that the legal significance of such a deviation wasn’t explained in advance. However, the attorney general’s office stressed that “to remove any doubt, from now on there will be a general clarification in order to anticipate the future.”

In response, Jabareen said to Haaretz that the attorney general “should have invalidated the addition and required the council members to make a new declaration.” He said that the addition “is racist and invalid on a legal and moral level … It’s very regrettable that the attorney general doesn’t see fit to express an opinion about the words that were said – which were clearly directed at the Arab minority. The words of the council members encourage hatred and hostility, and should have been condemned without hesitation.”