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Coalition’s Meretz warns Shaked of ‘painful response’ to Citizenship Law

Nitzan Horowitz says minister taking ‘a dangerous path’ by going over his party’s head; ‘Anyone who goes against the agreements must understand it will come at a price’

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz speaks during a press conference about COVID-19, on December 30, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz speaks during a press conference about COVID-19, on December 30, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The chairman of the coalition’s left-wing Meretz party warned Saturday of a “painful response” if Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked moves forward with her plan to pass the so-called “Citizenship Law” with the help of opposition votes, bypassing his own party’s opposition.

The bill being advanced by Shaked would renew a ban on permits for Palestinians who marry Israelis to live with their spouses in Israel. The law was first passed in 2003 and has been renewed every year since, until last July when the bill expired after the coalition failed to win a vote to extend it. Shaked has vowed to bring it back to the Knesset floor, and the Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted last month to advance the bill.

“It’s a racist law, a law that discriminates against Israel’s Arab citizens, a law that has no place in a democracy. We’ve said we can not support this law,” Meretz’ chief Nitzan Horowitz told Channel 12.

“Now Ayelet Shaked and certain others in the coalition want to do something unacceptable — to break the basic understanding upon which this government was formed and to pass this despicable law with votes from the opposition. This is a very dangerous path. It’s a very slippery slope, and of course, our response will be strong and painful,” he added.

“Anyone who goes against the agreements must understand it will come at a price.”

The cabinet, followed by the Knesset, is set to vote on Sunday on a series of appeals to the legislation. Meretz has attempted to hit the brakes on the legislation, filing an appeal against the bill aimed at preventing it from being fast-tracked without reforms. A second appeal was filed by Yesh Atid against a similar but more restrictive bill put forth by Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman of the opposition that was also advanced last month.

Rothman’s bill is seen as more likely to gain backing by the full Knesset due to its sponsor, hence the government’s willingness to advance the legislation, but it is not immediately clear which bill will move forward.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks at a press conference, at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, on October 31, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Tuesday, Shaked announced that the appeals would be voted on by the cabinet and then the Knesset, appearing to confirm that at least one of the bills has enough support to advance. She said the activity was coordinated with Cabinet Secretary Shalom Shlomo.

“On Sunday, the government will vote on the appeals that have been submitted on the Citizenship Law, and then we will vote on them in the Knesset,” Shaked said. The minister said the legislation “has the overwhelming support of more than 100 MKs, and we cannot let politics sabotage it once again.”

While the right-wing parties in the opposition all support the legislation in principle, they voted against it last year in order to embarrass the government and attempt to fracture the diverse coalition.

The law has been wildly controversial since its inception, with rights groups charging that it discriminates against Palestinians and Arab Israelis. The Supreme Court upheld the law in a 6-5 decision in 2012 after a protracted legal battle.

Shaked ordered her office to continue to implement the ban despite its expiration.  But last month, the Supreme Court ordered Shaked to cease enforcing the implicit ban now that the legislation was no longer in effect, saying that Israeli law does “not allow the enforcement of a law that is no longer on the books.”

The ruling has forced Shaked to return once again to attempt to push the legislation through the cabinet and the Knesset. Several Meretz MKs have vowed not to support the bill, as have members of the Islamist Ra’am party.

Around 12,700 Palestinians married to Israelis live in Israel with temporary documentation, and are 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 children to either leave with them for the West Bank or stay behind without them.

Around 130,000 Palestinians were granted family unification rights during the 1990s, before the ban went into effect. According to the Shin Bet security service, some 155 of those people or their descendants have been involved in terror attacks since 2001.

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