Israel seeks to bring back law denying Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens right to live in the country

Despite opposition from some of its coalition partners, the Israeli government headed by Naftali Bennett re-introduced the Citizenship and Entry into Israel bill, which had expired last year due to lack of majority support in the parliament

February 08, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Photo: Wikimedia

The Israeli parliament (Knesset) approved the introduction of the Citizenship and Entry into Israel bill on Monday, February 8, despite opposition from some parties in the coalition government led by Naftali Bennett. If passed, the proposed law would prevent Palestinians living in the occupied territories and elsewhere from living with their spouses in Israel. 

The bill seeks to re-introduce a racist law which was enacted in 2003. It had expired after losing majority support in the Knesset in July last year when the new coalition government under Bennett came to power. The coalition includes the left-wing Meretz and Arab Islamist party Ra’am, who opposed the continuation of the law. 

While the government has de-facto kept the law in existence since then, interior minister Ayelet Shaked wanted to convert it into a de jure act. According to local media reports, she was able to win the support of the right-wing opposition members of the Knesset in exchange for her support for a more extreme version of the same bill introduced by Simcha Rothman of the Religious Zionism party. It is expected that both the bills will be merged in the course of debate in the 120-member Knesset. 

The bill was passed in its first reading with 44 votes in favor and five against. The majority of the legislators, including the opposition, boycotted the vote on the bill after it was turned into a no-confidence motion by the intervention of the Arab Joint List.  

Meretz and Ra’am have announced their opposition to the bill, calling it discriminatory against the Palestinian citizens of Israel. They have even threatened to withdraw their support to the government, which is holding on to power with a very thin majority. Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz called the cabinet decision to grant approval to the bill a violation of the rules of the coalition, which will lead to future consequences. 

Meretz’ six and Ra’am’s four legislators are crucial to keep the Bennett government in power as it has a thin majority of just two seats in the Knesset. The Arab Joint List with six members and some members of the Labour Party are also opposed to the bill.  

Law confirms apartheid in Israel 

The proposed law will deny Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens the right to live with them in Israel. Critics believe that this is an attempt to prevent Arab citizens of Israel from marrying Palestinians from the occupied territories and elsewhere. The law was first introduced in 2003 during the years of the second intifada in the name of security. However, following a verdict by the Israeli supreme court on a petition filed by human rights group Adalah in 2011, it has been widely seen as a measure to check the rise of the Palestinian population in Israel. Currently, over 20% of Israeli citizens are Palestinians. 

Several Palestinian activists have called the move another example of Israel’s apartheid regime with two separate sets of laws for Jewish and Arab citizens. 

Some commentators also pointed out how the timing of the bill, which coincides with the government’s attempts to deny growing international criticism, yet again exposes the truth of Israeli apartheid against Palestinians.  

Last week, Amnesty International published a report which called Israel’s treatment of Palestinians under its occupation as apartheid. Similar observations have been made by several other human rights groups in the past, including B’Tselem. The Israeli government has tried to paint such criticism as anti-Semitic.