Opinion |

Ayelet Shaked Is Endangering Human Rights. The Center-left Must Sober Up

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
Ayelet Shaked at the Finance Ministry, in October.
Ayelet Shaked at the Finance Ministry, in October.
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked has an original conception of the Israeli law: It is only a recommendation. If she wishes to, she’ll abide by it; if she doesn’t, she’ll ignore it. Thus, even though the 2003 law regulating family unification, which set draconian terms for granting a residence permit to Palestinians marrying Israeli partners, expired last July, Shaked continues to enforce it.

As she sees it, an ultranationalist and racist law, even one that is no longer officially on the books, is an asset that must not be surrendered.

The declared intent of what was supposed to be a temporary law, which was first passed during the second intifada, was to prevent Palestinian terrorists from potentially exploiting family unification to marry, enter Israel and obtain residence permits. The right of a couple to establish a family and home in Israel was trumped by national security.

This serious infringement of a basic right didn’t bother the Supreme Court, which in 2006 and 2012 rejected petitions by couples wishing to obtain legal status in Israel, including basic rights, such as the right to work, and to receive health services and education for their children.

Figures presented by the Defense Ministry to the Knesset show that between 2001 and 2020 only 45 Palestinians among the thousands who were allowed to unite with their families were involved in terror activities. Between 2018 and 2020 the number was zero. Among the offspring of mixed couples, there were 109 cases of terror involvement, with only 16 between 2018 and 2020. These numbers almost completely belie claims that these unions pose a security risk. They certainly don’t provide the basis for such a harsh infringement of the rights of a couple to enjoy legal status in Israel.

There’s good reason to assume that security risks were never behind the law; rather it was demographic anxiety about the change in the composition of Israel’s population. It was fear of Israel being inundated by hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who would eventually obtain citizenship and the right to vote and be elected, thus shattering the vision of a pure Jewish state.

The bitter irony is that if the coalition hadn’t failed in last summer’s Knesset vote to extend the law, it would still be in effect. Their support for extending the law was a low point for the coalition’s centrist and leftist parties but, on paper at least, the defeat scored a great achievement for human rights, a term that’s absent in Shaked’s lexicon.

Shaked, who had initiated the move to extend the law, was frustrated. “Anyone who failed to see the jubilation of Likud and Religious Zionism Knesset members, along with Joint List lawmakers Ofer Cassif and Sami Abu Shehadeh, has never witnessed such craziness. Together they defeated the citizenship law, an important law for Israel’s security and character. It was a great victory for post-Zionism,” she said after the vote.

It was all a charade. The status of 1,600 Palestinians who have submitted requests for status in Israel has not changed. The minister continues to act as if the law is still in effect. Applications remain unanswered, and the Population and Immigration Authority has seemingly vanished. There are no opening hours or appointments to be made.

The Palestinians, in their distress, appealed to the High Court of Justice, which demanded answers from the government. A reply arrived, and this week we learned that Shaked intends to legislate a citizenship law this month, thus putting an end to the demographic threat looming over this country. No one can guarantee that the minister will meet the deadline, nor can she be certain that the law, which threatens coalition unity, will pass.

The legislation proposed by Shaked offers another opportunity for lawmakers who still remember what the basic right to marry and establish a home means. They must sober up and realize that they are not in the Knesset and government to act like rubber dolls. They must recognize that Shaked not only poses a threat to human rights (a marginal issue, since we’re talking about Palestinians), but that she’s a destructive political force that threatens to destroy the values-based raison d’etre of Meretz, Labor and tiny fragments of Yesh Atid.

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