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Israel citizenship law no longer hides its real goal of Jewish supremacy

Parliament is legally distinguishing between its own citizens in order to 'optimise' a Jewish demographic advantage
Ahmad Tibi and Ayman Odeh, members of the Israeli Knesset for the Joint List, attend a protest against the Israeli citizenship law in Jerusalem on 29 June 2021 (AFP)

With the world’s attention focused on the war raging in Ukraine, the Israeli parliament last week passed a law that blocks hundreds of Palestinian families from reuniting and living together.

According to the legal rights group Adalah, which launched a court petition on behalf of several Palestinian families against the so-called Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, it is among “the most racist and discriminatory laws in the world”. It aims to prevent Palestinian citizens of Israel from living in their own country with spouses from Gaza or the occupied West Bank, or any country defined as an “enemy state”.

Where will the red line be drawn? What would prevent the Knesset from legislating a limit on Palestinian births in Israel?

The law has its roots in a 2003 temporary order that was renewed annually until a chaotic political constellation prevented its automatic approval in July 2021. Previous court petitions have upheld the order, emphasising its temporary nature.

The new law, which must also be renewed annually, is even more problematic than the prior version, rights groups say. After years of disguising the law’s real motive by hiding behind “security” considerations, the new wording mentions its demographic motives openly for the first time.

“The purpose of this law is to establish special regulations on citizenship and residence or other permits to be in Israel, for citizens or residents of hostile countries or the region, while taking account of the fact that Israel is a Jewish and democratic state, and in such a way as to ensure the safeguarding of interests vital to the state’s national security,” the law states. 

Denying basic rights

The new law amalgamates the government’s version with three others proposed by Knesset members Simcha Rothman of the Religious Zionism party, Avi Dichter of Likud, and Zvi Hauser of New Hope. In the debate preceding its approval, none of its sponsors hid their demographic aims.

In other words, the state has no qualms about the denial of basic rights to some citizens based on their national-ethnic affiliation, in order to ensure a solid demographic advantage for the Jewish population within its territory - something it considers crucial to its national security.

Israeli Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks in Jerusalem on 5 July 2021 (AFP)
Israeli Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks in Jerusalem on 5 July 2021 (AFP)

Although policies of demographic engineering have not been foreign to Israel since its founding, this explicit recognition of the demographic motive puts Israel below the bar set by apartheid South Africa.

As the petitioners supported by Adalah pointed out, “there is no country in the world that harms the status of citizenship or residency of its own citizens or residents, the core of which is family life, based on ethnic or national affiliation. There is no country in the world that restricts the right of its citizens or residents to family life with spouses from their own people.

"Even the Supreme Court in South Africa in 1980 during Apartheid, in a precedent-setting judgment, struck down a similar law which prohibited the unification of Black families in areas where whites lived, arguing, among other things, that Apartheid was never intended to harm family life."

Alarming possibilities

The right Israel arrogates to itself here, to legally distinguish between its own citizens with the aim of “optimising” a Jewish demographic advantage, opens the door to a series of potentially alarming new legislative directions.

Israel approves law barring hundreds of Palestinian families from reuniting
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If the Israeli legislature admits today that a violation of the most basic rights of its Palestinian citizens is legitimate in the name of Jewish demography, where will the red line be drawn? What would prevent the Knesset from legislating a limit on Palestinian births in Israel, or financially punishing families of Palestinian citizens for every child born after the third? However unrealistic such ideas might appear today, tomorrow they could be seen as crucial to Israel’s “national security”.

After the law’s adoption last week, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked tweeted: “A Jewish and democratic state - 1; A state of all its citizens - 0”. Beyond the gleefully vicious and ugly tone, it is amazing that she included the term “democratic”. Why would she make a point of mentioning it that way? Why not say openly, as other right-wing ideologues in Israel do: “Democratic doesn’t interest me; what interests me is Jewish”? 

This is gaslighting, pure and simple. It is designed to create an alternate reality in which night is day, war is peace, and aggressor is victim. This is the world we live in now - a very sad and cruel one indeed.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Orly Noy is a journalist and a political activist based in Jerusalem.