Right praises, Left slams upholding of Citizenship Law

Justices rule 6-5 to uphold law barring Palestinians from naturalization through marriage.

By JPOST.COM STAFF
January 13, 2012 06:34
Israel's Supreme Court

Israeli Supreme Court 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/FILE)

Knesset members on the Left slammed the High Court of Justice ruling to uphold the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, saying on Thursday that it is undemocratic, while those on the Right lauded the court for defending Israel.

The High Court on Wednesday night rejected petitions by MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz), the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Hamoked Center for the Defense of the Individual and the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel against the Citizenship Law, by a majority of six justices to five.

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First passed as a temporary order in 2003, the legislation has been extended several times, and prevents residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip married to Israelis from receiving Israeli citizenship and residency permits.

In 2006, the High Court rejected a previous petition asking to annul the law, also by a ruling of six to five.

The latest petition argued that the law was unconstitutional because it violated the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty by denying citizens the right to family life, solely on the basis of their spouse’s ethnicity. In addition, Hamoked claimed that the law harmed children born to Palestinian-Israeli couples by denying them any legal status in Israel.

In its response to the High Court, the state argued that Palestinian terrorist organizations have not let up on their intentions to perpetrate mass attacks in Israel and therefore the court should not annul the legislation.

At the heart of the petition was the legal question of how far citizens’ rights to family life extend, and whether the Citizenship Law violated Israel’s Basic Laws.

Though Israel does not have a formal constitution, its Basic Laws are constitutional in nature, and the High Court examined whether the Citizenship Law was permissible, including under the so-called “limitations clause,” which prevents the Knesset from legislating new laws that infringe the Basic Laws – except where those laws are deemed “befitting the values of the State of Israel, enacted for a proper purpose and to an extent no greater than required.”

The six justices supporting the majority ruling – Supreme Court Vice President Eliezer Rivlin, Asher Dan Grunis, Miriam Naor, Elyakim Rubinstein, Hanan Melcer and Neal Handel – said even if there were a violation to constitutional rights, including the right to equality, this violation would be acceptable under the limitations clause.

Rivlin said that any injury resulting from the law was for a “proper purpose and not excessive.”

The majority justices added that they recognized the constitutional right to family life.

However, they said that the scope of that right did not have to extend to its being realized in Israel.

In contrast, the five justices making the minority ruling – Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, Edmund Levi, Edna Arbel, Salim Joubran and Esther Hayut – said that an Israeli spouse’s constitutional right to a family life included the right to enjoy that life in Israel.

The limitations clause did not apply, they added, because the Citizenship Law restrictions were applicable almost exclusively to Israeli Arabs.

Coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) congratulated the High Court. The majority of the justices defended sanity and “stood behind the statement that human rights do not have to be a national suicide mission,” he said.

At the same time, Elkin said he found it disturbing that nearly half of the justices thought it was reasonable to open Israel’s gates to thousands of Palestinians, and allow them to enact their own “right of return” via fictitious marriages.

Both Elkin and Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) called the Left, who criticized the High Court’s decision, hypocritical.

Those who attacked bills sponsored by the Likud, Israel Beiteinu and National Union to change the judicial selection process – saying they were defending the purity and superiority of the court – were now angry at the court for making a decision that did not suit them politically, Elkin and Rotem said.

“It’s strange that the court’s defenders find it correct to attack its justices, just because they do not like a decision that defends the State of Israel,” Rotem quipped.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin also defended the High Court’s ruling, saying that Israel did not forbid its citizens to marry Palestinians. However, they would have to move to “the other side,” he said.

According to Rivlin, these laws allow the country to defend itself.

National Union chairman Ya’acov Katz dubbed the ruling “an overt miracle” and said the law would protect Israel from “the threat of being flooded with two-to-three million Arabs from outside its borders.”

Gal-On called the legislation a “dark stain on our law books,” saying the court’s decision violated Israeli Arabs’ rights.

Justices censored themselves, because the High Court had become weaker in fighting racism, the Meretz MK added.

Arab lawmakers also criticized the decision, with MK Ghaleb Majadle (Labor) saying it “does not add honor” to Israeli democracy.

MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) said the law “spits in the Palestinians’ faces” and that the court missed an opportunity to fix years of injustice against “Palestinian citizens of Israel.”

Israel’s democratic values were continually crumbling, and the court was reinforcing militaristic and racist public discourse, she said.

The petitioners also slammed the ruling.

“The High Court has approved a law, the likes of which does not exist in any other democratic country in the world,” attorney Sawsan Zahar of Adalah said. “The ruling shows the extent to which Arab citizens’ civil rights have deteriorated into an extremely dangerous and unprecedented situation.”

Attorneys Dan Yakir and Oded Feller of ACRI also accused the court of failing to protect minority rights, and said the ruling was a “black day for human rights and for the Supreme Court.”

“For the second time, the majority has approved this racist law, which for a decade has severed the fabric of those families whose only sin is that Palestinian blood runs through their veins,” Yakir said.

Four organizations – the Israel Law Center (Shurat Hadin), Im Tirtzu – Rebuilding a Zionist Society, Fence For Life Public Movement for the Security Fence, and the Revitalized Zionist Movement – added themselves as respondents to the petitions in support of the law.

Israel Law Center chairwoman attorney Nitsana Darshan- Leitner welcomed the ruling, saying that “human rights should not be a recipe for Israel’s self-destruction,” and that “family reunification in Israel should not come at the price of terror attacks.

“In its wisdom, the court recognized the security threat that would be created if thousands of Palestinians were allowed entry into Israel and permitted permanent residence as a result of their marriage to Israeli citizens,” she said.

Darshan-Leitner told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the Citizenship Law was enacted in 2003, at the height of the second intifada, when several Palestinians who had been granted permanent residency on the grounds of family reunification later took part in terrorist attacks in Israel.

“No country in the word allows thousands of enemy nationals to enter its territory,” Darshan-Leitner added.

“The court realized that even if by refusing to annul the law, they will cause damage to families who cannot unite and live together in Israel.

Nevertheless, Israel must not embark on a process of selfdestruction for their sake.”

Ronen Shoval, Im Tirtzu’s chairman, also praised the High Court’s ruling, saying the law would “prevent hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from flooding into Israel.”


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