In a powerful blow to the new government, the contentious citizenship law was narrowly defeated early Tuesday morning in the Knesset with 59 MKs voting in favor, and 59 against, meaning the temporary law was not renewed.
Two coalition MKs from Ra’am abstained, according to a deal worked out within the coalition, but rebel Yamina MK Amichai Chikli voted with the opposition without warning his party, toppling the law.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said on Tuesday night in an interview with Channel 12 that she intended to bring the law back for another vote in the coming weeks and said she believed a majority could be secured for it.
The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, passed in 2003 as a temporary measure requiring renewal every year, prevents Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens from obtaining citizenship, like other foreign nationals, for reasons of national security, although demographic concerns have also been cited by the law’s proponents.
The vote, which took place in the Knesset plenum shortly before 6:30 a.m., was also made into a vote of confidence in the government by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as a way of pressuring Meretz and Ra’am, who oppose the law, to vote with the government.
According to Yamina, Chikli said shortly beforehand that he would vote with the coalition, leading the government to believe it had a majority, but said the rebel MK ultimately reneged on his promise and voted with the opposition.
Earlier in the night, a compromise had been reached between Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, Ra’am and Meretz to extend the law by six months, instead of 12, during which time a committee would have been set up in order to examine more long-term humanitarian solutions.
Additionally, 1,600 Palestinians living in Israel would be granted residency rights as a part of the compromise, after being examined on a case by case basis.
Under the compromise, Ra’am leader MK Mansour Abbas and his fellow MK Waleed Taha voted in favor of the law, while their party colleagues MKs Saeed Alharomi and Mazen Ghanaim were allowed to abstain.
השר פריג' ביציאה מבנט: אנחנו ורע"מ נצביע אותו דבר pic.twitter.com/J7GWau9nKA— יערה שפירא (@yaara_shapira) July 5, 2021
All MKs from Likud, the Religious Zionist Party, United Torah Judaism and Shas – save one – together with the Joint List of Arab parties, voted against the law, along with Chikli, toppling the measure. Later on Tuesday, Bennett condemned the opposition for failing to vote for the law.
“The opposition dealt a premeditated blow to the security of the state last night out of bitterness and frustration and harmed the good of the country,” alleged the prime minister.
“Everyone who voted against the Citizenship Law, from Bibi, through to Tibi, and onto Chikli, chose petty politics over the good of Israeli citizens, and they will need to give an accounting for their actions.”
Shaked also denounced the Likud for having toppled the law, which Israel’s security establishment considers important for national security.
“Anyone who did not see the jubilation of Likud and Religious Zionist members with [MKs] Ofer Cassif and Sami Abu Shehadeh has never seen real madness in their life,” Shaked tweeted, and posted a picture of Joint List MKs posing for a picture giving victory salutes after the law fell.
“Together they defeated the citizenship law, an important law for the security and character of the country,” adding sarcastically that it was “a great victory for post-Zionism,” in reference to the designation the Likud and Religious Zionist Party have given the new government.
The Likud rejected the government’s accusations, saying the proposed law was “a corrupt deal stitched together in the dark of night between Bennett, Lapid, Ra’am and Meretz by the first Israeli-Palestinian government, and it disintegrated thanks to the determined struggle that the opposition conducted, led by Netanyahu.” The Likud said that the proposed law would have allowed “thousands of people” to enter Israel “putting in danger the Zionist identity and security of the “State of Israel.”
And Chikli for his part also rejected Bennett’s accusations, including a suggestion that the MK was “confused,” tweeting later in the day: “Dear Naftali, your navigation is off, but it is still not too late to choose a new direction and act to establish a nationalist government exactly as you promised.”
Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich rebuked Shaked’s decision from the Knesset podium, saying “how did your hand not shake when you signed the agreement? Where is your shame,” and called her a “rag” to boot.
Following the vote, Smotrich said Bennett and Shaked had “sold out the State of Israel,” and added that “In order to buy Abbas’s vote, Ayelet Shaked agreed to grant Palestinians ‘the right of return’ in installments, and castrated the temporary [citizenship] law which was anyway full of holes.”
He added that the coalition had refused to negotiate on the opposition’s proposal for a Basic Law of Immigration which would offer a permanent, and more far-reaching, solution to the issue.
“The government preferred to come to dangerous agreements with terror supporters,” Smotrich alleged in reference to the compromise worked out between Shaked and Abbas.