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Israel’s Citizenship Law “Racist,” says New Israel Fund Director Mickey Gitzin

8 February 2022

Responding to the news that the Israeli Knesset has reinstated the “Citizenship Law,” a section of which prevents Palestinian families from living together, New Israel Fund Israel Director Mickey Gitzin released the following statement:

“Israel’s citizenship law is a racist law, unbefitting a democratic country. The sinister purpose of the law is clear—to prevent more Palestinians from living legally in Israel and hold back what elements of this government see as the ‘demographic threat’ posed by Palestinians. Back in July Yair Lapid tweeted about the law: ‘There is no need to shirk from the essence of this law. It is one of the tools to ensure a Jewish majority in Israel, which is the nation-state of the Jewish people.’ There is no ‘explaining away’ this logic; it is profoundly discriminatory.

“In the State of Israel, if you are a Jewish Israeli citizen, a legal process exists for your spouse to become an Israeli citizen as well. It is a naturalization process that is long and cumbersome, and subject to the discretion of the Ministry of the Interior, but it is possible. If you are a Palestinian citizen, as of this week, once again, this right no longer exists. Jewish Israelis have one right; Palestinian citizens have another. It’s that simple.”

The New Israel Fund is the leading organization protecting and advancing democracy in Israel. Widely credited with building Israeli progressive civil society, it has provided over $300 million to progressive civil society since its inception in 1979.

Since 2003, the Knesset has upheld a discriminatory amendment to Israel’s Citizenship Law that blocked Palestinian families from living together. The measure was passed at the end of the Second Intifada as a security precaution to prevent West Bank Palestinians who sought to do harm to Israeli citizens from taking advantage of spousal rights to get residency in Israel and perpetrate an act of terrorism. It is a temporary law and requires the Knesset actively extend it every year. It is known by what it is not: a “family unification” law.

For the last eighteen years, successive right-wing Netanyahu governments had no trouble extending the law, continuing to deny Palestinian citizen the basic right to live with the people they love (and with exceedingly scant proof that most of the thousands of applicants for spousal residency rights present any real danger to society). Thousands of Palestinians married to Israelis lived with temporary documentation, unable to drive or open bank accounts, ever-fearful that (should their Israeli partner die or they divorce) they would be deported back to the West Bank.

Back in July, the law fell. In a 59-59 vote, this racist “temporary measure” finally came off the books.

It failed for two reasons: First, because the entire opposition — from the full slate of the Arab Joint List, who opposed the bill in principle, to the Likud, who opposed the bill to embarrass the government — voted against it. Second, because two MKs from the coalition party Ra’am (The United Arab List) abstained, and one far-right member of Prime Minister Bennett’s party voted with the opposition against the measure.

Still, current Minister of the Interior and Prime Minister Bennett’s number two, Ayelet Shaked, continued to enforce this law despite its expiration and held up applications to her ministry that would have brought families together. New Israel Fund grantees appealed to the Supreme Court and won, and so Shaked again sought to pass the temporary measure. This week, she succeeded.

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