Upon expiration of the British-mandate Israel used force and intimidation to expand the territory allotted to a Jewish state by the United Nations, and to decrease the Arab population living there. Since then Israel has practiced a discriminatory immigration policy that encourages Jewish immigration to Israel and that makes it very difficult for anyone else to move to Israel. This policy is embodied in the Israeli Law of Return which grants every Jew and their spouse (Jewish or not) citizenship immediately upon moving to Israel; and in a Citizenship Law that makes it very difficult for anyone else to obtain residency or citizenship status in Israel—especially Palestinians who lived there in 1948 but were driven out by war.
In 2003, in the midst of the second Intifada, Israel amended its Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law to preclude family unification between Israeli citizens and their West Bank or Gaza spouse (the anti-family-unification law). Under this law, an Israeli citizen or resident who falls in love with a Palestinian from Gaza or the West Bank cannot marry and live with this person in Israel. At the same time, an Israeli resident who opts to live with his or her Palestinian spouse elsewhere—because the state won’t allow them to live in Israel—risks that their residency status will be revoked. The Israeli rights of a child from such a union are precarious and at risk.
In 2006 the Israeli Supreme Court denied a petition challenging the law, but suggested that it was in violation of the Basic Law (the closest thing Israel has to a constitution). In response the Knesset expanded the reach of the law to also preclude family unification for spouses hailing from Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and other (unspecified) countries adverse to Israel, and made minor concessions for short-term renewable family unification permits for older couples, but otherwise reaffirmed the law. In 2012 the Supreme Court upheld this discriminatory law as amended.
The anti-family-unification law was first introduced as an emergency measure, subject to annual renewal. But a decade later this has nothing to do with security; it seems very much like a permanent feature of Israeli law. The Knesset once again renewed the law on June 15, 2015, although the Zionist Union (the formal opposition) was able to extract a commitment that the law would be looked at more closely at the next renewal.
On Wednesday, June 24, 2015, the Knesset held a “debate” on a request by the Joint Arab list (13 MK’s headed by Ayman Odeh) to revoke the anti-family-unification provision in the Citizenship Law. The result was not pretty.
During the debate, Deputy Interior Minister Yaron Mazuz of Likud … called on Arab lawmakers to return their Israeli identity cards. Addressing the Arab Joint List’s MK Haneen Zoabi, Mazuz said: “Mrs. [Haneen] Zoabi, you are the first who ought to return your ID. We are doing you people a favor by even allowing you to be seated here – terrorists won’t be allowed to sit here. You people are in a democratic state, so respect the state. Whoever acts against the State of Israel using terror – has no right to be here. It’s unthinkable that from this abode, people will go out and participate in terror flotillas against the State of Israel.”
The deputy interior minister is referring to Hanan Zoabi’s participation five years ago as a passenger on the MV Mavi Marmara, a ferry boat that was part of a “freedom flotilla” which attempted to breach Israel’s blockade of Gaza in order to deliver humanitarian aid. Israeli forces killed nine activists in a raid on the flotilla. MK Zoabi was never charged with any wrongdoing.
Here is what this all looks like [Hebrew only, but body language tells all].
Netanyahu seems amused. He took to the stand to defend his deputy minister. He’ll undoubtedly characterize this as an example of Israel’s “robust” democracy. But the government’s response to the Joint Arab List’s request (“We are doing you people a favor by even allowing you to be seated here”) appears less like an example of a lovable rollicking democracy than an ethnocratic state in a destructive nationalist spiral. Haaretz says that Touma Souliman of the Arab List later “took to the podium and accused Netanyahu of being an accomplice to Mazuz’s incitement.”
The deputy minister’s threat that “your residency status will be revoked” is not so idle when you keep in mind that paragraph 11 of the Citizenship law states: “…(b) The Minister of the Interior may terminate the Israel nationality of a person who has done an act constituting a breach of allegiance to the State of Israel.” Thus far, the Palestinian members of Knesset are not cowed. The Supreme Court has repeatedly backed Zoabi against attempts by representatives of the “Jewish state” to disqualify her from office. It seems that, for now, the Palestinian members of the Knesset can have their say, even if their efforts for a more just society are ridiculed and are met with derision and threats.
No defender of Israel should be secure in a belief that this “democracy” is in a healthy state.
UPDATE: I should mention that, as of this writing, there is a new “freedom flotilla” headed for Gaza. Member of Knesset Basel Ghattas (Joint Arab List) is planning to join in Athens. He wrote a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu, stating in part: “The civilian flotilla aimed at breaking the siege is peaceful. Its goal is drawing international public attention to the state of the 1.8 million Palestinians living in jail-like conditions as a result of the blockade imposed by Israel – which is a form of collective punishment and constitutes an infringement on humanitarian law.”
Haaretz reports that: the Knesset House Committee is recommending to the Ethics Committee that it suspend Ghattas from the day he joins the flotilla and it will consider withdrawing his rights.
In the meantime, on Sunday, the Knesset is scheduled to vote on a bill that would require candidates for Knesset to prove that they have never made public expressions of support for “illegal activity against the State of Israel,” which is aimed directly at actions like Zoabi’s participation in the “freedom flotilla” in 2010, and Ghattas’ participation in the current “freedom flotilla.”
This post first appeared on Roland Nikles’s blog yesterday.