Knesset Backs Palestinian Family Unification Ban in First of Three Votes

Meretz and the United Arab List, who oppose the bill, left the parliament chamber during the vote to allow its passage

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Members of the Knesset coalition last month.
Members of the Knesset coalition last month. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The Knesset approved in a first of three votes a bill barring Palestinians married to citizens from receiving permits to live in Israel on Monday night after a stormy parliamentary session.

The citizenship law expired in July in an early embarrassment for the fledgling coalition and is once again dividing the parties in government.

This time around, however, five lawmakers opposed Ayelet Shaked's version of the bill, which won 44 votes after Meretz and the United Arab List, who did not support the agreement, left the chamber instead of voting against the bill.

This came after MK Ahmed Tibi of the Joint List, a coalition of majority-Arab parties that vehemently oppose the legislation, sought to turn the vote into a motion of confidence in the government.

Tibi's move also prevented a rare collaboration between the right-wing parties in the government and in opposition on a stricter version of the bill by MK Simcha Rothman from the Religious Zionism party, with the opposition also exiting to avoid lending legitimacy to the coalition.

Protesters against legislation barring unification for Palestinian-Israeli families, last July.

It is still not clear which of the Knesset's committees will handle preparations for the bill's second and third readings. United Arab List's Walid Taha, who opposes the law, heads one of these committees and coalition members fear he may torpedo any future vote.

Ahead of the vote, the bill was shaping up to be another litmus test for the coalition, but ended up passing with little commotion.

Lawmakers from Labor, New Hope and Kahol Lavan all lent their support to the new legislation, while parties who had expressed fierce objection to the bill ended up abstaining.

Meretz Chairman Nitzan Horowitz wrote Sunday that "the Citizenship Law is racist and discriminatory, and there is no place for it in a democratic state. The decision to cooperate with [opposition leader Benjamin] Netanyahu, [Bezalel] Smotrich, and [Itamar] Ben-Gvir is a blatant violation of agreements and a break in the coalition. Meretz won't allow it, not even by turning a blind eye."

Lawmaker Walid Taha of the United Arab List said Sunday, that his party opposes the legislation, and dubbed the law “racist," threatening to break coalition discipline on future votes.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, however, justified the bill by stating that "Shin Bet alerted us that we are paying a bloody price for terrorist attacks carried out by Palestinians who entered Israel through family reunification.”

The family reunification saga is just one issue that has threatened the unity of the governing coalition, including most recently battle chiefly waged between the United Arab List and Ayelet Shaked over a law meant to connect unrecognized Bedouin villages and homes to the national electric grid.

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