With Meretz and the United Arab List having decided to vote with the opposition against extending a temporary amendment to the Citizenship Law, the bill is not expected to win a Knesset majority. Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and Zeev Elkin, the minister in charge of liaison with the Knesset, said they nevertheless intend to bring it to a vote Monday, in the faint hope that rightists from the opposition will ultimately vote their consciences. This means that at midnight Monday, this contemptible law, which bars Palestinians who married Israelis from obtaining legal status in Israel, will cease to be in force – assuming, that is, that Shaked doesn’t manage to find some last-minute compromise acceptable to all the parties in the governing coalition.
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The temporary amendment to the Citizenship Law was approved during the second intifada for security reasons – the magic words that allow Israel to discriminate with the approval of the High Court of Justice. But even this dubious security pretext doesn’t hold water. Today, it’s clear that the ban on family reunifications, which applies only to Palestinians, has been renewed year after year for demographic reasons – that is, the desire to engineer Israel’s ethnic majority by means of discriminatory legislation.
Meretz did well Thursday when it withdrew its agreement to support this disgrace – a reversal of its consistent opposition to the law throughout the previous years. The party returned to its original position to protest the approval of a compromise with residents of the illegal settlement outpost of Evyatar – a compromise that wasn’t discussed with the party before it was agreed on with the settlers.
Meretz’s protest is justified. The new government is a unity government. In the words of its leaders, Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, it “came here to work” in the shared understanding that all of its component political blocs will have to show flexibility in their positions. But the capitulation agreement with the lawbreakers of Evyatar is a blatantly rightist, pro-settler move that grossly deviates from the ideologically blurry guidelines of this “government of change.”
Therefore, Meretz’s opposition to extending the ban on family reunifications is not only justified ideologically, but also for reasons of fairness within the governing coalition. If the coalition’s right flank was counting on the opposition to advance a right-wing agenda despite the views of the coalition’s leftist parties, then the leftist parties are entitled to rely on the opposition to block right-wing legislation.
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Clearly, none of this would be happening if the Likud party hadn’t preferred to embarrass the government by not extending the temporary law, as successive governments have done until now, and as Likud itself planned to do this year until its leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, ordered otherwise. But regardless, we should welcome the rightist opposition’s opposition to this discriminatory law. We have to hope that even if it’s for the wrong reasons, the right will help remove this stain from Israel’s law books.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.