Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Al-Quds Al-Arabi [Arab Jerusalem] reports “chaos” in the Israeli parliament as it debated into the wee hours of Tuesday morning the renewal of a 2003 law that places obstacles to family unification inside Israel of Palestinian-Israelis who marry Palestinians living in the Occupied West Bank or Gaza. Members of parliament clashed with one another, giving fiery and denunciatory speeches.
In the end, the government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett failed to renew the law. Haaretz reports that there were some abstentions in the vote, so that a majority did not vote against the extension. If that had happened, the government would have fallen and Israel would have gone to new elections.
Some 17,000 Palestinian-Israeli families are affected by the law. In contrast, Jewish Israelis may marry whom they please outside Israel and bring back their spouses to live in Israel without any cumbersome bureaucracy.
The law was cited by Human Rights Watch as one of many pieces of Apartheid legislation ensuring that Israelis of Palestinian heritage, over 20% of the population, do not have the same rights as Israelis of Jewish heritage.
It would be as though white Americans could marry French and Swedes and bring them easily to the US to become citizens, but Black Americans could not marry persons of color abroad and bring them back– their spouses would be locked out of the country because of race.
If the US had such a law, I think we know which senators in particular would stand up and defend it as necessary to preserve the White Majority in America and to preserve security and democracy.
The law, first passed in 2003, has been routinely renewed annually by Israel’s right wing governments, but this time there was a twist. Israel is currently ruled by an unwieldy eight-party coalition that includes a center-left party (Meretz) and one Palestinian-Israeli party, the Muslim Brotherhood-inspired United Arab List of Mansour Abbas. The coalition has a narrow 61-seat majority in the 120-member parliament.
Ordinarily, the far right wing parties that currently sit in opposition would vote for the law, but al-Quds al-`Arabi reports that they did not do so this time precisely in hopes of splitting the governing coalition and bringing the government down. This refusal was led by far right former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Inside the eight-party ruling coalition, two blocs, the center-left Meretz and the Palestinian-Israeli United Arab List, initially announced their opposition to renewing the law. That meant that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett didn’t have the 61 votes needed from his own coalition, and could only have passed it if the far right had not remained united behind Netanyahu.
Al-Quds al-`Arabi reports that Ayelet Shaked, the far right Interior Minister, at one point announced a settlement with Meretz and the United Arab List that would see the law extended for only six months, would offer permanent residency to 1600 Palestinian spouses of Israelis now living in Israel, and would create a human rights commission to look into the law.
This deal was rejected by the opposition parties, however. Netanyahu argued that you can’t just arbitrarily decide to extend a law for only 6 months.
The Bennett government could have overruled the opposition if all members of all eight parties in it voted to accept Shaked’s compromise, i.e., if 61 MKs voted in favor.
In the end, Ahmad al-Tibi of the United Arab List and a member of the small 8-member Yamina bloc, Bennett’s own party, voted against it, so that the measure fell short of the required 61 votes.
Al-Tibi, member of parliament for the Muslim fundamentalist United Arab List, described the law against Palestinian-Israeli family unification as a “mark of shame in all law books.” He lambasted it as racist and inhumane and demanded that it be voted down immediately, saying any Palestinian-Israeli who voted for it is a backstabber. In comments to the Knesset, al-Tibi excoriated the remarks of Interior Minister Shaked as impudent and racist. She appears to have described those opposed to the measure as idiots, and he reminded her that she is only minister because the current government has the support of “Palestinians and Arabs like me,” whom she had called idiots.
Al-Tibi said that “there is no room to negotiate on this matter.”
The foreign minister and coalition leader Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future) Party had thrown his backing behind the bill on the grounds that it is a means of ensuring a Jewish majority. He said, “It is one of the tools designed to ensure the Jewish majority of the state of Israel.”
That Lapid openly gave a racist justification for the law in this way demonstrates the racial anxieties and insecurities of Israel’s Jewish majority. It simply is not the case that Palestinian-Israelis (called in Israel “Arab-Israelis”) are likely to marry non-Israelis in large numbers and bring them to live in Israel At the moment there are only 17,000 such marriages on the books.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White Party concurred, “This law is essential for safeguarding the country’s security and Jewish and democratic character, and security considerations need to be put before all political considerations.”
Hmm. I don’t think that bit about “democratic character” actually fits this law, which is about the most undemocratic piece of legislation you could imagine. The notion that Palestinian-Israelis are undermining Israel’s democracy is rich coming from a man who would not have his current job without the participation in his government of four Palestinian-Israeli members of parliament.
Rose Scammell at the UAE’s The National quotes Budour Hassan, a researcher at the Jerusalem Centre for Legal Aid and Human Rights, as saying, “You can be French, you can be American, and you can come and live with your Jewish-Israeli spouse. But if you’re Palestinian in the West Bank, you can’t.”
West Bank Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens can apply, Scammell says, for a temporary residence permit to come live with their family, but it can take a year for the permission to come, and it only lasts a couple of years, needing to be renewed. Spouses from Gaza have been entirely banned from entering Israel since 2007.
Aljazeera reports, “Mohammed Zaatreh, a Palestinian who carries a West Bank ID, lives in occupied East Jerusalem with his wife and daughter, both of whom have Jerusalem IDs. Every 12 months, he has to apply for a special Israeli military permit just to live in his own home. The permit excludes him from having Israeli health insurance, most forms of employment, an Israeli driver’s licence, and, he says, peace of mind. ‘At any moment they might tell you that you have to leave and that you’re not welcome,’ Zaatreh told Al Jazeera.”
The video report with Zaatreh is here:
Bennett’s failure underlined the weakness of the current government and its dependence on the four Palestinian-Israeli members of parliament from the United Arab List for its majority any time the opposition unites. But note that Bennett seems to have had trouble keeping his own right-wing members in line, as well, so the divide isn’t just ethnic, it is ideological.