One of the first pronouncements by former Justice Minister Haim Ramon after he took office was the intention to establish a new immigration policy for Israel. This policy was to have replaced the no-policy in that area that has held sway here since the establishment of the state. It was also to have replaced the emergency regulation ("the citizenship law") that prevented family unification in the case of most Israeli Arabs married to Palestinians, and which was extended time after time.
However, like all of Ramon's initiatives in the Justice Ministry, this, too, is suffering from the kissing disease. Even when a new justice minister is appointed, immigration policy is not likely to be a number-one priority. At the beginning of the next year the discriminatory emergency regulation will run out. The government will certainly ask the Knesset to renew it, simply because it has no other suggestion.
Meanwhile another law has been taking shape in the Knesset, which is an undeclared revolution in Israel's immigration policy. The concern is that the bill (Amendment 19 of the Entry to Israel Law, known in the vernacular as the shabakhim, or illegal aliens law) will turn into Israel's de facto policy on who gets in and who does not.
The law determines that an illegal alien will be able to receive legal standing in Israel only after he or she leaves the country for a cooling-off period of one to five years. The law passed its first reading on the first day of the Knesset's summer session. It enjoyed wide support, and it is hard to imagine what will prevent its passing in the winter session.
The main reason for the bill's support is the rationale that hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens living in Israel should not be given a prize. However, it cannot be ignored that the law is directed only against non-Jews. Jews cannot become illegal aliens in Israel.
It should also be pointed out that practically speaking, a non-Jew has no option for becoming a citizen or permanent resident except by means of family ties to a citizen. Therefore those hurt by the law will be relatives of Israelis. The law punishes not only them, but also their Israeli families. It affects foreign workers who married Israelis or the elderly parents and children of immigrants from the Commonwealth of Independent States. In fact, the law will take away from Israeli citizens the right to fall in love with whomever they wish. So much of what is bad in our national character is reflected in this law - withdrawal and alienation from foreigners and lack of compassion for those who are not Jewish and for those who dare to link their fate with a non-Jew.
The only group fighting this law are the Arabs. Ultimately, couples in which one partner is an Arab Israeli and the other Palestinian have almost no chance of living here legally in the first years of their marriage. The law will therefore almost completely prevent marriage between individuals in Israel and the West Bank. It is reasonable to assume that this is its main goal, and that this is also the reason that it has enjoyed such sweeping political support.
Yisrael Beitenu is conflicted here. It is for the law when it comes to Arab illegal aliens and against it when it involves the relatives of immigrants, and there are tens of thousands of them. Hence, it is not fighting the entire law, but rather seeks to add a clause by which the law will not apply to relatives of those entitled to citizenship by dint of the Law of Return.
The law must not be passed, not as is and not with the addition of the above-mentioned clause. It is inconceivable that the naturalization of illegal aliens be prevented while not putting arrangements in place to make it easier for the parters of Israelis to enter the country legally.
An independent public committee must also be established to discuss humanitarian exceptions rather than allowing the decision to remain in the hands of the Interior Ministry or a committee headed by government officials. They have already proven how narrow is their definition of humanitarian exceptions.
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