Israel: far-right ‘plays politics’ with apartheid law to embarrass government

Bennett gestures at the Knesset in Jerusalem (AFP)

Middle East Monitor  /  June 17, 2021

Far-right opposition parties in Israel have claimed victory after embarrassing the new coalition government by ensuring that it failed to extend an apartheid law barring Palestinian family reunification. The law, which prevents Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens from receiving citizenship, failed to get its usual backing from the right-wing bloc. It is being viewed as an attempt to highlight the paralysis within the government of Naftali Bennett and its inability to protect Israel’s basic interests.

With a paper-thin majority of 60-59 in favour of the government led by far-right nationalist Bennett, he sought the support of the opposition bloc because the Ra’am party, which has four seats, opposes the law and would not vote with its coalition partners.

The family reunification law is regularly cited by human rights groups as one of the many ways in which Israel imposes an apartheid system on its own citizens. The law typically involves an Israeli citizen requesting citizenship for his or her non-Israeli spouse. Most unification applications are submitted by Palestinian Israeli citizens on behalf of a Palestinian spouse living in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. While Jewish Israelis are granted family reunification, it’s often the case that Palestinians will be denied this right.

According to the Times of Israel, coalition chairman Idit Silman (Yamina) was forced to pull the measure from the Knesset Arrangements Committee agenda upon realizing that she did not have enough votes for it to pass. Likud said it would back the move only if the government backed a policy to build more Jewish-only outposts in the occupied West Bank. The fragile unity government, however, is said to oppose such measures and is cautious about expanding Israel’s presence beyond the Green (1949 Armistice) Line.

Mocking the apparent early paralysis of the unity government, Likud MK Miki Zohar tweeted that, “[It is] simply unable to maintain the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state”. The Family Reunification Law plays a central role in what Israelis see as the preservation of a Jewish majority, but it is denounced by rights group as another manifestation of apartheid.

Despite this setback, it is expected that the law will be extended. “I do not imagine that the opposition will harm the security of the country in the name of political games,” the Interior Minister is reported to have said. Ayelet Shaked also pledged to move forward with the legislation with a vote next week.