There's Something Other Than Security Behind Israel's Citizenship Law

Zehava Galon
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Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, chairs the first weekly cabinet meeting of the new government in Jerusalem, June 2021.
Zehava Galon

During the next two weeks, the Knesset is expected to vote on the Citizenship and Entry Into Israel Law (Temporary Provision), which has been renewed regularly since 2003. This law violates the basic rights of Arab citizens of Israel to family life and equality, and its purpose – as attorney Dafna Holz-Lechner, who represented Meretz and me in petitions to the High Court of Justice has argued – is to prevent them from living in Israel with their relatives from the territories. But this time there is a political problem: Likud and the parties of its cancerous bloc have announced that they will not vote in favor of the law, and the United Arab List has also said it will oppose it.

One thing is already clear: Despite the argument of the right – which the center, in its cowardice, has adopted over the years – this law does not prevent any “security risks.” Firstly, the Shin Bet security service has already stated that since 2018 no one eligible for family reunification has been involved in terrorism. Second, Justice Edmond Levy, who during a 2006 High Court hearing supported the law solely as an interim measure, opposed it by 2012, and ridiculed the security argument, since, after all, Israel allows Palestinian workers to enter its territory every day. Third, if there were a security risk, Likud would not oppose the law; it’s inconceivable that Likud would seek to endanger state security just to overthrow a government not headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, right?

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The law’s purpose has always been to serve as a means of demographic control. The law proves that the word “citizenship” is a meaningless one in Israel, since no one would have dared oppose a law allowing Jewish Israelis to live with settlers from the West Bank, even though there have been settlers involved in terrorism. We still haven’t forgotten that in 2005 they tried to set alight a gas storage facility in Rehovot to foil the disengagement, and Betzalel Smotrich was once arrested on suspicion of attempting a major attack inside Israel. From time to time, settlers attack IDF soldiers, and as for their behavior toward Palestinians – there is no Shabbat without a pogrom – one needn’t elaborate.

If we want Israeli citizenship to have any real meaning and not to be a cover for an apartheid regime (and Human Rights Watch cited this law as one of the reasons it views Israel as such), Arab citizens need to know that they are equal. In many respects, the family reunification provision served as a prelude to the Nation-State Law, which officially turned Arabs into second-class citizens.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked says that opposition to the law by any coalition member is a “violation of the status quo,” and therefore goes against the government’s guidelines. This isn’t true. “Status quo” is not a synonym for “how it was, is how it will always be.” A law that is renewed every year, under the guise of a temporary order, by its nature involves a specific and temporary interest – an exception to the status quo, which is a permanent thing. We do not vote on the status quo anew every year, and this temporary provision – the reason why the law stood the test of the High Court – contradicts basic principles, and is meant to be anything but permanent.

All of us, Jews and Arabs, are residents and citizens of this tortured land. The time has come for us to stop threatening Arab citizens with a second Nakba and separation from their families. They are citizens by right and not by grace. As Natan Alterman wrote about expressing such “grace”: “It is not appropriate even for a personal reason.” This abominable law, which stains the Israeli legal code, must be eliminated. Then one could say that this government has effected some kind of change.

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