Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinians are not only draconian, brutish, and unrelenting but they also are cloaked in words and phrases that would make the late British novelist George Orwell blush with suitable embarrassment. This is exemplified in the innocuous sounding “Family Reunification Law” (formally titled the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law).
As opposed to what one may assume, when the Israeli government says “family reunification,” it actually refers to blocking Palestinians in the occupied territories from marrying Israeli citizens and taking up residency within Israel’s 1948 borders. More troubling is the fact that it was enacted despite there being zero evidence Palestinian men were seeking Arab Israeli brides for migratory purposes.
The law is therefore nothing more than a crude ploy to maintain Jewish supremacy by denying Palestinian Arabs from lodging an application to be with their families in Israel.
Thus, why human rights activists refer to it in more honest and accurate terms, such as the “Law to Block Family Reunification,” “Racist Family Separation Law,” or the “Law to Encourage Palestinians to Leave.”
“For 18 years, Israeli governments have backed a law built on faulty security arguments, explicit demographic engineering and pure human suffering,” observes Dahlia Scheindlin for Haaretz.
“Israel cannot pursue a desire for a Jewish majority at the expense of the equal rights of its non-Jewish citizens.”
The law has also been strongly condemned by international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, which said: “Israel cannot pursue a desire for a Jewish majority at the expense of the equal rights of its non-Jewish citizens. . . . [It] undermines the rights of thousands of Israelis to live together with their families, and the rights of certain Israeli children to live with both parents.”
Left-wing Meretz Party leader Zehava Galon described the law as “one of the most shameful stains in the Israeli law book,” arguing it “deals a fatal blow to the fundamental right to family life and equality.”
But the illegality, obscenity, and absurdity of this discriminatory law does not end there, as it has now reached comical proportions – although not “ha-ha” funny – with the swearing in of the new coalition government. Indeed, recently ousted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party have sought to weaponize the law’s annual renewal in the Knesset, in order to weaken, humiliate, and unravel newly elected Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
It appears these tactics may have been successful, for now at least, as its annual extension was impeded in a deadlocked 59-59 parliamentary vote on July 6. Still, Bennet is reportedly already seeking measures to prolong the law for six months and to summon another vote. And Netanyahu, who urged his allies to vote against the bill they had previously upheld affirmed that he would work on a “permanent basic law on immigration to accomplish the same end.”
What makes the “Family Reunification Law” unique to most others is that it was enacted under emergency provisions.
What makes the “Family Reunification Law” unique to most others is that it was enacted under emergency provisions, meaning it requires a parliamentary vote each year to extend it for a further 12 months.
Despite having voted to extend the law every year since 2003, the Netanyahu-led opposition made it known to the coalition government – not only comprised of Bennett’s far-right New Right party, but also the left leaning Meretz and Islamic Ra’am parties – that it planned to repeal the law. The former Prime Minister’s bloc was keenly aware that the leftist and Arab members of the coalition would also vote against renewal, thus handing Netanyahu ammunition to push his claim that the government has been taken hostage by Palestinian Arabs under Bennett’s leadership.
Adding to the discord, the vote had been postponed in late June due to the inability of the Knesset to form a majority committee, which prompted right-wing parliamentarians to chant “cowards” towards members of the coalition government. Idit Silman, of Bennet’s New Right party, was even sent death threats on WhatsApp and called the “daughter of a whore.”
Although the July 6 vote should mark the end of the heinous “Family Reunification Law,” this is Israel, where political absurdity is the norm, not the exception.
In the lead up to the vote, Israeli Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked claimed that his ministry would potentially be forced to “immediately naturalize 15,000 Palestinians.” Yet, the failure to renew the citizenship law is not expected to have an immediate impact on the thousands of Palestinian families already affected by it, as Shaked – a member of Bennett’s New Right party – will still have the authority to deny citizenship or residency to individuals on a case-by-case basis.
The Islamist Ra’am party attempted to work out a deal to help the Bennett-led coalition out of this political trap.
It should also be noted that according to Al-Monitor, the Islamist Ra’am party – which is supposed to represent the interests of Palestinian Israeli citizens – attempted to work out a deal to help the Bennett-led coalition out of this political trap. The party agreed to abstain from the vote under the following conditions:
That hundreds of families who had requested family reunification before 2003 be allowed to renew their request to receive permanent residency; that dozens of families that applied for family reunification after 2003 and have had no security problems be allowed a quick resolution; and finally, that all families affected by this law have right of movement and be able to receive all needed medical treatment in Israel akin to Israeli citizens and residents.
As noted by Al Monitor, these compromises are not new, and “only a few people” would have benefited from the “Ra’am compromise” if the bill had been renewed.
Still, if the Ra’am proposed agreement is indeed true, it marks yet another betrayal of the Palestinian people in both Israel and the occupied territories. That the Islamist party would choose to help a right-wing government save face over reuniting Palestinian families separated by the Green Line is unconscionable as it is unfathomable.
As it stands, an estimated 45,000 Palestinian families inside Israel and East Jerusalem have been barred from reuniting with their loved ones in the occupied territories.
While the recent vote against renewing the law is a hopeful development, there are already signs of political schemes to re-enact the bill and make it permanent. Thus, the potential continuation of despair and suffering for the 45,000 families affected by Israel’s racist citizenship law is why it must end permanently.