Photo Credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks at the Knesset plenum, February 16, 2022.

A significant change was introduced in the latest version of the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, which is due to pass in the Knesset Thursday in the second and third readings. For the first time since its inception some 20 years ago as a technical regulation intended to protect Israel against family reunifications of Israeli Arabs with spouses who resided in the Palestinian Authority, the new version has added to the law a demographic justification as well.

Update: The law passed its second and third readings in the Knesset on Thursday evening.

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A collaboration of Opposition MK Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionism) and Coalition Mk Zvi Hauser (New Hope) with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) introduced a goal clause stating that the new law should be interpreted by future courts “with attention to Israel being a Jewish and democratic state.”

Meanwhile, Ra’am, the Arab coalition partner, has announced it would oppose the new Citizenship Law, even if the vote turns into a no-confidence vote in the government.

The assumption is that, as it did in the first reading of this bill, this time, too, the Joint Arab List will turn the vote on the law into a vote of no confidence in the government. In such a situation, the Jewish members of the opposition will quickly leave the plenum to defend the bill on which they cooperated with the Jews across the aisle. The Meretz coalition members will also walk, since they, too, don’t wish to see the coalition government collapse.

In the end, it’s little more than a show, intended to rob the Joint Arab List of an opportunity to scold its arch-enemy in the Arab sector. Ra’am asked for and received approval to vote against this coalition bill knowing full well that it couldn’t possibly result in overthrowing the government.

The Knesset’s legal counsel staff warned the two MKs’ and the minister that the change they introduced into the language of the bill could lead to the High Court revoking the new law, supposedly because the very idea of “Israel being a Jewish and democratic state” might be considered illegal in certain parts of north Tel Aviv and Rehavia in Jerusalem. But the MKs who drafted the law responded that they don’t see the court striking down a law because it characterizes the State of Israel as Jewish and democratic – and which would be passed by the vast majority of the Knesset.

The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law originated in a 2002 Cabinet order freezing the issue of citizenship on family reunification grounds between Israeli citizens and residents of areas governed by the Palestinian Authority. The law was extended in mid-2005 but was limited to families where the husband is under 35 and the wife under 25 years old.

The law was tested against Israel’s Basic Laws (its kind of constitution) when in 2003, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel filed a petition to strike it down. The law was upheld in 2006, in a split 6-5 High Court decision, but the ruling criticized some aspects of the law, especially––as was written in Chief Justice Aharon Barak’s minority opinion––the temporary nature of the law, arguing that “the appropriate goal of increasing security is not justifying severe harm to many thousands of Israeli citizens.”

Turns out it does, and this time without a sunset clause – when the Knesset hopefully passes it Thursday, it’ll be here to stay.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.