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Vote on Palestinian family reunification law delayed again, amid disagreements

Opposition lawmakers shout ‘cowards’ at meeting of Knesset Arrangements Committee, after legislation again pulled from agenda

MK Idit Silman (2nd left), head of the Knesset Arrangements Committee, leads a committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
MK Idit Silman (2nd left), head of the Knesset Arrangements Committee, leads a committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Legislation extending a law barring Palestinian family reunification was again pulled from the agenda at a Knesset committee meeting on Sunday, due to an ongoing dispute that threatens its passage.

The provision, which has been renewed annually since 2003, blocks the automatic granting of citizenship to Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens. The new government is internally divided over the issue, and while most opposition lawmakers support the law in principle, they have refused to step in to back it in the hopes of embarrassing the new government. The current legislation expires on July 6.

At a meeting of the Knesset Arrangements Committee on Sunday, committee chair Idit Silman (Yamina) postponed a vote on advancing the bill to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, when it became clear that there was no majority to do so. Members of the opposition began shouting in response: “Cowards, cowards, cowards!”

Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben Gvir was forcibly removed from the committee hearing when he refused to stop shouting.

Members of the opposition originally intended to boycott the proceedings of the committee, claiming it was unfair to hold them on the 17th of Tammuz, a Jewish fast day. The lawmakers ended up attending, as they were informed that a vote on the reunification law would be held, and were then furious when it was pulled from the day’s agenda.

“This is embarrassing behavior,” proclaimed Likud MK Miki Zohar. “You’re making a mockery of yourself, bringing us here on a fast day and then telling us the day’s agenda has changed.”

Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben Gvir argues during an event titled, ‘After 54 years: Between occupation and apartheid,’ in the Knesset on June 22, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Likud MK May Golan was also removed from the committee hearing for unruly behavior, as was Religious Zionism MK Orit Strock.

Golan called Meretz MK Gaby Lasky a “hater of Israel” and said Lasky, a human rights attorney, “represents terrorist murderers with blood on their hands.” Strock entered into a shouting match with Yamina MK Nir Orbach over the potential upcoming evacuation of the Evyatar West Bank outpost.

“The chair of the committee is trampling on every rule that exists,” Shas MK Michael Malchieli claimed on Army Radio following the hearing. “Every member of the opposition who speaks is kicked out.”

Before being removed from the committee, Ben Gvir sparred with Ra’am MK Walid Taha. Ben-Gvir called Taha a “supporter of terror” who “is in favor of harming IDF soldiers.” Taha called Ben Gvir “garbage” who is “unfit” to be in the Knesset and a “dictator, terrorist.”

Taha, a member of the coalition, has stated he will vote against extending the Palestinian family reunification law. Several Meretz lawmakers, as well as Labor MK Ibtisam Mara’ana, have indicated they will not support the legislation unless it is modified.

Ra’am MK Walid Taha attends a Knesset Arrangements Committee meeting on June 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

For the new government, which has a razor-thin majority over the opposition in the Knesset, opposition by even a single MK from the coalition could be enough to stop the bill.

That means that the government could need the right-wing opposition parties to help pass the bill. Government officials have been working to negotiate with the Islamist Ra’am Party in order to find a solution to allow the legislation to move forward, according to a TV report on Friday.

Under the compromise proposal, the “family reunification law” will not be changed and hundreds of Palestinians who married Israelis before the legislation was first approved in 2003 will receive residency but not citizenship, according to Channel 12 News.

The network said Ra’am would abstain rather than voting to extend the law.

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