Israel is torn between ‘temporary’ and permanent Apartheid

Jonathan Ofir

Mondoweiss  /  June 30, 2021

One of the first challenges to the new Israeli government is the passage of yet another extension to the “temporary order” from 2003, which bans Palestinian family unification.

Human Rights Watch, in their April report on Israeli Apartheid, explains family reunification policy cogently:

The 1952 Citizenship Law also authorizes granting citizenship based on naturalization. However, in 2003, the Knesset passed the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order), which bars granting Israeli citizenship or long-term legal status to Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza who marry Israeli citizens or residents. With few exceptions, this law, renewed every year since and upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court, denies both Jewish and Palestinian citizens and residents of Israel who choose to marry Palestinians the right to live with their partner in Israel. This restriction, based solely on the spouse’s identity as a Palestinian from the West Bank or Gaza, notably does not apply when Israelis marry non-Jewish spouses of most other foreign nationalities. They can receive immediate status and, after several years, apply for citizenship.

Commenting on a 2005 renewal of the law, the prime minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, said: “There’s no need to hide behind security arguments. There’s a need for the existence of a Jewish state.” Benjamin Netanyahu, who was then the finance minister, said during discussions at the time: “Instead of making it easier for Palestinians who want to get citizenship, we should make the process much more difficult, in order to guarantee Israel’s security and a Jewish majority in Israel.” In March 2019, this time as prime minister, Netanyahu declared, “Israel is not a state of all its citizens,” but rather “the nation-state of the Jewish people and only them.”

Israeli Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy notes how “[a] law that was passed as a temporary measure in 2003, which was considered in 2006 by Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy as a law about to expire within two months, is celebrating 18 years of existence.”

Indeed, the ‘temporary order’ was passed each year with little dissent. Even the Labor Party regularly voted for it, with occasional symbolic dissent.

Alas, this time, the new “government of change”, which is really a right-center government led by the most right-wing Prime Minister in Israel’s history, is facing a challenge from the opposition – which is also right-wing. And it could seem paradoxical for many: Now Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud opposition bloc is putting hurdles in the path of such a racist Apartheid law. I mean, what’s not to like in this ‘Palestinian ban‘ for a Zionist right-winger?

Well, the opposition bloc wants to go further. Not this temporary thing. They want to pass a ‘basic law’ (the closest Israel gets to an actual constitution), in the nature of the racist Nation-State law from 2018, one which bans the family unification permanently. This one is called “Basic law: Immigration”.

Netanyahu has recently announced that he would support passing the temporary order, on the condition that the basic law on immigration is promoted simultaneously:

If the coalition agrees to promote our Basic Immigration Law, we are ready to extend the temporary order by two months, provided that we pass the Basic Immigration Law in a preliminary reading on the same day and appoint a team to enact the law within two months.

The government is under time pressure because the extended expiry date of the ‘temporary order’ is next week (July 6th). They’ve already delayed the vote a few times due to dissent in the government coalition, and this gives the opposition leverage.

This basic law on immigration has a history going back at least to 2018, when the bill was put forth by former Likud backbencher Nava Boker. The bill suggestion stipulates that an “illegal immigrant” is a person who entered or resides in Israel outside of the following conditions:

  1. By Law of Return [for Jews only]
  2. By tourist visa
  3. By valid work permit
  4. An offspring of a person who falls under one of the above clauses.

In other words, only Jews are constitutionally permitted to enter Israel. Non-Jews can only come as temporary tourists or as workers. Those who are already in Israel and become illegal aliens under this law are liable to be expelled by the state.

The promotion of the basic law more recently was led by the Religious Zionist party lawmaker Simcha Rothman, who put it on the parliament’s table two weeks ago. Religious Zionism is the furthest right faction which joined up with the Kahanist Jewish Power towards the recent elections, getting the Jewish terror supporter Itamar Ben-Gvir into the parliament.

Passing of the ‘temporary order’ extension has faced the strongest dissent from Ra’am (United Arab List), the conservative Islamic party, which opted to break out of the Joint List which represents most Palestinian Israeli citizens and play a more willing part in Israeli Jewish politics. Its leader Mansour Abbas was first courted by Netanyahu, which legitimized other rightwing Jewish parties bringing Ra’am into the “change government” later (Prime Minister Bennett even thanked Netanyahu in his inaugural speech for this legitimization).

But the ban on family unification is a blatant insult to any Palestinian, and Abbas cannot not oppose it.  

As the deadline for renewal of the order nears, the pressure builds. Two days ago, Minister of Interior Ayelet Shaked (from Bennett’s Yamina – ‘Rightwards’) threatened Abbas, that if he doesn’t muster support for passing the extension, she will promote, together with the opposition, the passing of the basic law on Immigration. Shaked has in the past advocated outright genocide of Palestinians, in fact just shortly before she became Minister of Justice. Laws which codify Jewish supremacy and sanction the expulsion of non-Jews are not alien to her Weltanschauung. It is merely a question of political expediency, and if she can’t get the temporary ban through, the more permanent one could be useful.

Indeed, the question facing Israel today is, why pretend? Why pass yet another temporary order for the 18th time, in the name of security, when the law is actually in the name of permanent Jewish demographic supremacy, a consistent feature of Zionism? Why pretend that it is temporary, like the occupation? Why not pass another racist law once and for all, following on the Nation State law, and get it over with?

Taunting the government coalition, Netanyahu said:

There is a majority on the right for passing the Basic Law on Immigration. The conduct of the coalition reveals the truth about this government that it is unable to maintain Israel as a Jewish state because it is a left-wing government that depends on anti-Zionist elements.

Netanyahu makes no attempt to hide the fact that this is all about demography. The Zionist perception of Palestinians is basically that their presence is a security threat in its very nature. Netanyahu is coming from the right, against the even further right Bennett and saying that Bennett’s relying on anti-Zionists, and that he’s in the wrong camp. Netanyahu is saying he has a more honest, unabashed portrayal of Zionism, one that doesn’t apologize and that offers permanency.

And he certainly has a point. The point for those who oppose Apartheid, nonetheless, is to recognize that regardless of whether an Apartheid law is temporary or permanent, the reality is cemented as Apartheid, permanently so.

Jonathan Offir is an Israeli musicia, conductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark