Racist ‘Citizenship Law’ Advances, Months after Ban on Palestinian Spouses Lapsed

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation voted Sunday to advance far-right Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked’s racist bill barring Palestinians from living with their spouses in Israel to a vote in the Knesset for a second time, despite not having the full backing of the coalition.

The government failed to muster the support in July to pass the amendment to the Citizenship and Entry Law, leading to its first expiration since its introduction in 2003 and embarrassing the new coalition in an early test.  The bill prevents Palestinians living in the West Bank or Gaza who marry Israeli citizens from living permanently in Israel with their spouses and denies them a path to citizenship.

The Joint List’s six MKs pose in the plenum for a picture commemorating the defeat of the Israel’s racist Citizenship Law, July 6, 2021 (Photo: Knesset)

The bill was rejected by the Knesset plenum six months ago, and since then, Shaked has struggled to obtain a majority. Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) said he was determined to prevent its passage. “We toppled the Citizenship Law, because we oppose racist, anti-democratic legislation”, Odeh said. “We will do everything we can to topple it again.” According to Hadash MK Ofer Cassif (Hadash), “This Israeli law is racist, collective, pre-emptive punishment. It can neither be justified, nor redeemed.” The Joint List also oppose Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s bill on drafting yeshiva students. All parties in the coalition support the bill, including Islamist Ra’am (United Arab List).

Around 12,700 Palestinians married to Israelis live in Israel with temporary documentation, required to constantly renew their fragile status in the country. For years, most were not permitted to drive or open bank accounts. If their Israeli spouse dies or they divorce, they could be deported — forcing their Arab Israeli children to either leave with them for the West Bank or stay behind without them.

On paper, with the lapsing of the law, Palestinians married to Israelis are currently legally no different from any other foreign spouse. Israeli law grants foreign spouses’ residency in the country through a process known as family unification. However, the Interior Ministry is controlled by Shaked, who has instructed ministry staff to continue as though the ban were still valid until further notice.

In a letter explaining the current policy in September, a senior Interior Ministry official said that Shaked had ordered the ministry to carry on as though the law remained in force while the office “examined the implications of the change.” However, the High Court ordered Interior Minister on Tuesday to cease her implicit ban on Palestinian spouses receiving residency in Israel, telling her that she cannot enforce a law that expired in July. “The basic rules of administrative law do not allow the enforcement of a law that is no longer on the books,” Justice Dafna Barak-Erez wrote in a ruling issuing a temporary injunction to Shaked to lift the ban.

In December of 2021 the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) filed an appeal to the court arguing that the Minister of Interior’s policy should not be permitted to neglect the fact that the temporary order “Citizenship and Entry Law” has expired, and that the abusive and illegal policy that the Ministry of Interior is abiding by — sending thousands of people to conduct individual legal proceedings before various courts until the matter of their status is further decided in the Knesset – is a violation of their rights.  ACRI, HaMoked, and Physicians for Human Rights welcome the new ruling, stating: “The Supreme Court has clarified that it is illegitimate to continue acting in accordance with an expired law and to hold families hostage to Minister Shaked’s legislative initiatives. The Minister of Interior must act in accordance with the law that applies to all status applicants in Israel.”