Blow to Coalition as Extension of Racist Citizenship Law is Defeated

The Knesset voted down extending for yet another year the 2003 “emergency measure” Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law on Tuesday morning, July 6, after an all-night session, despite a compromise on the controversial legislation reached by the governing coalition. The “temporary” legislation which was first enacted 18 years ago denies the automatic granting of Israeli citizenship or residency to Palestinians from the occupied territories who are married to citizens of Israel.

Fifty-nine lawmakers voted in favor of extending the statute while fifty-nine voted against it, meaning the annual extension was not approved. Three members from the coalition did not vote in favor of the statute, thereby denying it the required plurality: MK Amichai Shikli from PM Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party voted with the opposition and two members of the coalition’s Islamist United Arab List (Ra’am), MKs Saeed Alkharumi and Mazen Ghanaim, abstained. All members from coalition’s “leftist” Meretz and “center-left” Labor lawmakers voted in favor of extending the statue after a “compromise” was reached. The vote took place in the Knesset plenum shortly before 6:30 am after over five hours of acrimonious speeches on the plenum floor.

Before the vote, far-right Prime Minister Naftali Bennett transformed it into one of confidence in his government. However, as the vote was a draw, the tenuous weeks-old government supported by a coalition of ideologically opposed bedfellows has not automatically fallen as a result of the legislation’s defeat.

The Joint List's six MKs pose in the plenum for a picture commemorating the defeat of another annual extension to the "emergency measure" statue of Israel's racist Citizenship Law, Tuesday, July 6, 2021.

The Joint List’s six MKs pose in the plenum for a picture commemorating the defeat of another annual extension to the “emergency measure” statue of Israel’s racist Citizenship Law, Tuesday, July 6, 2021. (Photo: Zo Haderech)

Earlier in the evening, in a last minute attempt to have the legislation passed, the government amended the law in an attempt to compromise between Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, a strong proponent, and the Ra’am and Meretz parties of the coalition who had adamantly opposed the proposed draft for renewal. The amended wording would have allowed for a six-month extension to the statute (instead of the previous year) during which time a panel would have been set up in order to examine “more long-term humanitarian solutions.” Additionally, some 1,600 Palestinians from the occupied territories currently living in Israel would have been granted residency rights as part of the compromise.

The amended statue was then brought to a telephone poll of all government ministers, to determine their positions. Although Ra’am leader MK Mansour Abbas (who is not a minister) and his fellow MK Waleed Taha ultimately voted in favor of the amended law, as indicated above their party colleagues MKs Saeed Alkharumi and Mazen Ghanaim abstained, thereby denying it the required majority needed to pass.

In the decisive vote, all right-wing and Ultra-Orthodox opposition lawmakers, who are ideologically on board with such discriminatory legislation, but see their main immediate task as toppling the government, voted against the extension. These included 29 MKs from the Likud, 9 from Shas, 7 from the Religious Zionist Party, and 7 from United Torah Judaism. They were joined by the rebel MK from Yamina, Amichai Shikli, giving this block 53 votes against the legislation.

To them were added all six MKs from the Joint List who also voted against the extension. Ideologically the latter are strong opponents of the law, calling it racist and discriminatory, in particular against the citizens of Israel most affected — the country’s Arab-Palestinian citizens — as it denies them the basic freedom to marry whomever they choose and attain legal status for their partners. Hadash MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List) described the law during Monday’s plenum debate as a “moral and political disgrace that enshrines Jewish supremacy.” She said, “We hope that the law will be buried today without ceremony, so that our people can choose whom to love and with whom to live.”

Following the vote, Interior Minister Shaked denounced the Likud for having toppled the law, “Anyone who did not seen the jubilation of [Joint List MKs] Ofer Cassif and Sami Abu Shehadeh has never seen real madness in their life,” Shaked tweeted, and posted a picture of Joint List MKs posing for a picture giving victory salutes after the law fell, adding sarcastically that it was “A great victory for post-Zionism.” Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin, a former Likud minister and lawmaker and now an MK for the far-right New Hope coalition party, said Netanyahu’s bloc had become the Joint List’s “useful idiot.”