Racist legislation

Editorial

Haaretz

Shvat 9, 5765

In the summer of 2003, the Knesset promulgated a disgraceful law. The amendment to the Citizenship Law applied a sweeping prevention of unification of families and marriages between Israeli Arabs and Arabs from the region. Since the law was passed by the votes of 53 MKs - including Shinui - there has been a total halt to any requests by Israeli Arab citizens, including those who were already married and had children, to enable them to live in Israel with their relatives.

In effect, the state left its Arab citizens only one choice: to live in another country with their non-Israeli spouses. The amendment institutionalized discrimination against Arabs compared to any other non-Jewish citizen. Since it was passed, Israeli citizens could marry any non-Jew in the world and live with them in Israel, but if they married Arabs "from the region," they could not live as a family in Israel.

In the summer of 2004 the government extended the temporary amendment by six months, and this week a memo went out from the Interior Ministry ahead of a further extension. Since there have been petitions to the High Court of Justice against the law in the meantime, and the court has already hinted it will intervene if the law is extended again, the government is now trying to make the law a little more flexible to prevent the court from intervening.

According to a new, "easier" formula, a man over the age of 35 or a woman over the age of 25, already married to an Israeli, can get a permit to stay in the country for six months. The underlying assumption apparently is that people who must extend their stay in Israel every six months, and whom the law denies citizenship even if they are model residents of the country, will prefer to live elsewhere.

Once again, the government is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the High Court, announcing that the validity of the amendment is for another year, on the assumption that the court will avoid intervening in a temporary law.

For its part, the court indeed could postpone its intervention for another year even though it convened as an extraordinary 13-member panel to consider the petitions against the law and expressed unhappiness with its content.

Before looking to the High Court to solve all problems, the challenge of annulling the racist law must be placed before two ministers with liberal outlooks: Ophir Pines-Paz in the Interior Ministry and Tzipi Livni in the Justice Ministry, the two ministries directly responsible for the legislation. Their predecessors, Yosef Lapid and Avraham Poraz, turned their backs on their liberal world views and caved in to the Shin Bet recommendations that were behind the legislation.

It should be hoped that it's not only up to the Shin Bet to decide who will fall in love with Israeli citizens and with whom Israeli citizens will be allowed to marry and start a household. The Citizenship Law in its old form allowed the state to examine closely every immigrant and anyone who wanted to settle here. The gradual naturalization process enabled the state to grant status over the course of years of temporary visitor, temporary resident and permanent resident until it granted citizenship status, and to examine each potential immigrant from every possible angle - health, criminal, security and economic - and the law allowed the state to reject requests for citizenship on a variety of grounds. The citizenship tests for non-Jews were always strict, but the new law cancels all the tests and prefers a sweeping, disproportional denial of citizenship to Arabs from outside the country. Such legal discrimination must not be allowed to continue.