Citizenship Law likely to pass tonight, as Ra’am threatens to vote no confidence

After weeks of extensive negotiations, controversial legislation expected to pass with help from opposition; Ra’am to vote against, even if bill becomes a confidence vote

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Ra'am party leader Mansour Abbas, left, and United Torah Judaism MK Yaakov Asher during a vote on the ultra-Orthodox draft bill at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 31, 2022. (Flash90)
Ra'am party leader Mansour Abbas, left, and United Torah Judaism MK Yaakov Asher during a vote on the ultra-Orthodox draft bill at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 31, 2022. (Flash90)

In its last legislative gasp before breaking for Passover recess, the Knesset is expected to cross coalition-opposition lines to pass a new version of the so-called “Citizenship Law,” which largely prevents Palestinians who marry Israelis from obtaining permanent residency.

The 2003 Citizenship and Entry Law was renewed on an annual basis until it expired last June, when the coalition failed to pass it. The ban is one of Israel’s most controversial policies — proponents call it necessary to ensure Israeli security and a Jewish majority, while opponents say it immiserates the lives of Palestinians and Arab Israelis.

Opposition parties Likud, Religious Zionism, United Torah Judaism and Shas are set to contribute up to 53 votes in support of the measure, according to a spokeswoman for Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman. The conservative lawmaker has been a key force in the deal-making that brought the right-wing opposition members behind the push to renew the ban.

Opposition backing is necessary to pass the law, as coalition members Meretz and Ra’am have harshly condemned it.

But the votes are likely to come piecemeal. While the Religious Zionism party has decided to support the measure, Likud has given its members freedom to decide.

The Islamist Ra’am party has long opposed the policy. Arab Israelis have attacked Ra’am for sitting in a coalition that legislates a ban on Palestinian family unification.

MK Walid Taha speaks during a plenum session in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In the plenum earlier on Thursday, Ra’am MK Walid Taha said: “This law fires a gunshot at the future of our children and will annihilate any chance of quality of life and hope.”

While the measure likely has the votes to pass, its opponents may turn the bill into a no-confidence vote in the government. The parliamentary maneuver would force opposition parties to vote against the bill they ideologically support rather than express confidence in the government.

Ra’am has pledged to vote against the bill, even if lawmakers amend the process to become a vote against the coalition in which the party itself sits.

“We said that we’d vote against the bill, even if it turns into a vote against confidence in the government. The decision [on a vote of no-confidence] rests with the opposition,” Taha told The Times of Israel. “We will vote against the bill in either situation,” and won’t leave the plenum to abstain, even if it requires casting votes of no-confidence against the government.

The opposition Joint List party is expected to put forward a motion to turn the vote into a vote of no confidence in the government, which is an obstacle that might stop the bill from passing its third reading. Voting for the bill would express confidence in the government, and against it would be a vote of no-confidence. Opposition parties need 61 votes to topple the government, however, which is not expected.

The government is not likely in danger with such a vote, but rather the Joint List party — which is pushing to attach a no-confidence measure — is making it difficult for right-wing opposition parties to vote in favor of the Citizenship Law.

Should this happen, it’s expected that opposition parties will abstain or leave the plenum, rather than casting a vote against the bill.

A source inside United Torah Judaism confirmed that “we won’t support” the bill on its third reading if it is combined with a vote of no-confidence, so as not to support the coalition.

Likud MKs received a directive to either abstain from voting or leave the plenum during the vote’s third and final reading, in order to avoid the awkward issue of explicitly supporting the government they have pledged to topple.

Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman is seen during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on October 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Religious Zionism would also withhold support on a bill that requires them to simultaneously reaffirm the government, with a source inside the party saying that they won’t feel conflicted on whether or vote against the bill or the government as “there won’t be 61 votes [required to dissolve a government] anyway.”

After two weeks of drawn-out committee discussions to unify over the government and private bills proposed by Rothman, New Hope MK Zvi Hauser, and Likud MK Avi Dichter, the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee finalized the bill this morning.

“I pass the law with a heavy heart and without joy,” said Committee chairman and Yesh Atid MK Ram Ben Barak in a statement. “I would like to get to a point where we do not need this law… but in the current security reality, we can do nothing but defend ourselves.”

“In the bill, we have made changes that in some ways will make it easier for those seeking to reunite families,” Ben Barak added. “I would like to do more, but in the current political reality, I have not succeeded in everything I want.”

Changes meant to aid families include that partners of permits holders will receive military-issued stay permits, provided they are over 50 and their partners have lived in Israel for 10 years; temporary residence permits will be extended from one to two years’ validity; and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked will establish a humanitarian committee special for evaluating domestic violence cases.

Meretz MK Mossi Raz tells The Times of Israel that the law is a “more extreme version” than its previous incarnation, which Meretz voted for in exchange for an unfulfilled “promise to solve problems faced by 600 families.”

However, he said that disagreements about the law and even potential Ra’am votes against confidence in the government will not turn into a coalition crisis.

“The coalition will survive,” said Raz.

Protestors, including Joint List MK Ayman Odeh (center), hold a demonstration against the Citizenship Law outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 29, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Four key changes advocated by Rothman, Dichter, and Hauser were integrated into the bill in order to garner support from the right-wing opposition.

The changes include a section that says the goal of the law is not just security, but also protecting Israel’s Jewish majority; quotas on the numbers of humanitarian permits approved; quarterly reporting to the Knesset on residency and humanitarian permit requests and approvals; and permission for the Interior Ministry to cancel a permit should the permit holder commit “a breach of trust,” such as acts of espionage or terror.

Earlier this week, Meretz and Ra’am presented the deliberating Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee with 50,000 reservations against the law, in a move to jam up the bill unification process.

Passing this law, which will be in effect for 12 months from its date of publication, has been a government priority before closing the Knesset’s winter session at the end of this week.

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