Opinion |

The Inherent Evil of Israel's Citizenship Law

Zehava Galon
A demonstration against the Citizenship Law outside the Knesset, June 2021.
A demonstration against the Citizenship Law outside the Knesset, June 2021. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Zehava Galon

The government has informed the High Court of Justice that Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked plans to pass a new citizenship law within a month – and that it will preserve the racist clauses that were included in the original law. The government was responding to a petition submitted by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel; Hamoked: The Center for the Defense of the Individual; Physicians for Human Rights and several Palestinian petitioners.

Shaked has continued to refuse family reunification for Palestinians, and has done so without any legal authority. Since the Knesset revoked the original Citizenship and Entry Into Israel Law, 1,680 requests have been submitted, and under Shaked’s instructions the Interior Ministry has refused to discuss these requests, continuing to operate as though the law were still in effect.

The background: At the start of the second intifada the Knesset passed a law designed to prevent Palestinians living in Israel from marrying Palestinians from the territories. The Knesset understood at the time that it was a law whose constitutionality was in doubt, and which undermines the right to family life and equality, and therefore declared it a temporary “emergency provision.”

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That was the excuse for the High Court: Look, this law isn’t permanent, we will discuss it on an annual basis depending on the situation. And of course, since 2003 the Knesset has approved it year after year. An “emergency provision” turned into a permanent law. And the High Court? It sighed, but didn’t rule on the matter. The justices said that the law raises difficult constitutional questions, but refrained from invalidating it. Why would they need this headache?

Six months ago the coalition was unable to garner a majority and the law was revoked. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett promised the Meretz party – which supported the racist law – that he would change the law. And what did Shaked do? She announced that she doesn’t care, and that she forbids family reunification even if she has no legal authority to do so. Instead of the State Prosecutor’s Office ordering her to return to the situation prior to the passing of the law – in other words, an individual examination of every request for reunification – Gil Limon, the deputy attorney general, declared that he supports the law.

Hold on a moment, my friend Limon. It is now 2022. The law that was passed 20 years ago originated in the days of the second intifada and the security situation that ensued from it. But that was over 17 years ago. How can you pretend, 17 years later, that the security situation in 2002 is still relevant today? The law that you are approving – wouldn’t it be preferable for it to suit the actual security situation?

Excuse me for the bad joke. The Citizenship and Entry Into Israel Law was always justified with security excuses, but it has no real connection with security. Justice Edmond Levy mocked this claim during my petitions and those of human rights organizations, and noted that Israel permits Palestinian workers to enter its jurisdiction.

And here precisely is the crux of the matter: The law does not protect Israel’s security, and was never designed to do so. It is designed to allay the demographic fears of Israeli Jews. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said so at the time, and half a year ago Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid repeated his words: “We don’t have to hide from the essence of the citizenship law, it is designed to ensure a Jewish majority in the country.”

The significance of Lapid’s words is that Israel is not a democracy. It has a large, native-born minority whose rights will always be inferior to those of the majority. This native-born minority won’t be able to realize its family-related rights or aspire to happiness. One of the advantages of this government is that Israeli Arabs are participating in it. If Shaked throws the Arab community to the dogs, Bennett, Lapid and their comrades should be aware that they won’t have another government after the election. Perhaps this utilitarian argument will succeed in overcoming the law’s built-in evil.

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