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The Israeli Left May Soon Disappear

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A demonstration against the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, aka family unification law, in Tel Aviv in 2012.
A demonstration against the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, in Tel Aviv in 2012. Credit: Moti Milrod

A young woman from the settlement of Ofra married the love of her life from Moshav Gderot, near Ashdod, and moved to his parents’ farm. A young woman from Jaffa, unfortunately for her, fell in love with a young man from Silwad, near Ramallah in the West Bank. Her parents wanted the young couple to move to the second floor of their home, but the family unification law – officially known as the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law – prohibits them from living in Israel.

The Jaffa bride, an Israeli citizen, will lose her social-welfare rights if she moves with her husband to the West Bank. The settler from Ofra will move with her new husband to any place she wants.

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This is what has been driving the Knesset crazy in recent days. The coalition acted to extend the temporary order banning Palestinians married to Israelis from moving as couples to Israel proper, and assumed that naturally the right-wing parties would support the law, which its coalition partner, the United Arab List, would not be able to do. In other words, extending the law is clearly a right-wing interest.

But in these stormy times, the opposition preferred to forgo the legislation that’s so close to its heart for the pleasure of embarrassing the coalition. For this political maneuver, they are willing, as they see it, to endanger the state and to bring in Palestinians who they fear will collect intelligence information or even commit terror acts.

To be clear: This temporary order was enacted during the second intifada, when security-related anxiety within Israel was at its peak. The legislation was aimed at thwarting terrorism at a time of insecurity. Since then it has undergone a number of iterations, its usefulness has become marginal and the new justification for it became a change in Israeli society – or, in a word, demographics. Was the coalition therefore seeking to change this temporary order to stop a severe infraction of human rights, and to change the law in a way that it at least would not, by means of a sweeping ban, define all Palestinians as dangerous?

A coalition whose members include Meretz and Labor – the former clearly a leftist party, the second depending on its chairperson and period in history – should have understood that it cannot extend this racist legislation as it stands. Was this a mistake by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, or was the mistake ours? After Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev (Labor) approved the Flag March last week, we may understand that the coalition is trying extremely hard to show the boisterous opposition that it is not left wing because, although MK Benjamin Netanyahu is no longer prime minister, he is still the dominant person in our lives.

Now, before the vote on the law (which was postponed until the coalition reaches an agreement that ensures a necessary majority), it is possible to declare quite clearly that this is the situation right now, and that although this is racist legislation that is damaging to civil rights, this is the price the coalition must pay to stop the Netanyahu rebellion and get the budget passed – in much the same way Bar-Lev can say he would have preferred to cancel the right-wing march rather than wax lyrical about “our eternal united capital,” but could not do so under current circumstances.

The coalition’s base won’t be angry; most of them just want to see Netanyahu out of the prime minister’s Balfour Street residence. It will manage somehow with the occupation and an anti-social-democratic economy. Strong images are now implanted in our minds: numerous women in the government, an Arab minister, a deaf MK and a female minister in a wheelchair. Never mind the Palestinians.

But the interesting question is what will happen to Meretz and Labor after a year of relinquishing their core values? Despite what Netanyahu, MK Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionism) and the rest of the chorus say, the danger is not that Bennett, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman will adopt leftist policies. The danger is the opposite: that after a year or two, the leftist parties will fade away until they disappear from the coalition.

And so, no matter what, the parties must not try to morally justify their “no-choice” votes, and along the way should also remember this: Bennett, Sa’ar and Lieberman don’t want elections in the near future any more than they do. They’ve already reached their pinnacle with the establishment of the new coalition. Now they are all equal partners in the struggle over the face of the nation.

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