Controversial citizenship bill passed into law

The bill aims to tighten immigration controls, making it harder for Palestinians who marry Israeli Arabs to receive citizenship.

 Ra'am head Mansour Abbas at the Knesset plenum, December 15, 2021. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Ra'am head Mansour Abbas at the Knesset plenum, December 15, 2021.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

A nine-month legislative saga ended on Thursday night when right-wing coalition and opposition parties joined in passing into law the controversial citizenship bill, which is aimed at tightening immigration controls and making it harder for Palestinians who marry Israeli Arabs to receive citizenship.

The bill was defeated by one vote in July due to a last-minute rebellion by MK Amichai Chikli. Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked tried to pass it ever since.

The new law, sponsored by Religious Zionist MK Simcha Rothman, applies to Israelis of any nationality who marry any foreign resident. That spouse will not receive citizenship automatically. The bill’s supporters said it was necessary for Israeli security, because a significant percentage of terror attacks conducted by Israeli citizens were carried out by men who received citizenship by marrying Israelis.

"This is a Zionist law for our national security that should not have been abandoned for narrow politics," Shaked said. 

Labor and Meretz MKs absented themselves from the vote to protest it not having enough humanitarian exceptions. Ra’am (United Arab List) MKs voted against it.

Ra’am faction head Waleed Taha called the bill’s supporters racist, and threatened to topple the government. But a meeting of ministers on a NIS 5 billion plan to help the Arab sector ahead of passing the plan next week made it very unlikely that Taha would carry out his threat.

 MK SIMCHA ROTHMAN: It’s not racism. Israel is the home of the Jewish people. You can’t leave people out of their home. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) MK SIMCHA ROTHMAN: It’s not racism. Israel is the home of the Jewish people. You can’t leave people out of their home. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich considered trying to torpedo the citizenship bill to protest the funding in the Arab sector. But he decided against it after it became clear that the bill would pass without his faction’s votes.

Multiple human rights groups said after the vote that they would petition the High Court of Justice against the new law.

The bill concluded a difficult week for the coalition, which was forced to give up on passing its signature bills on conversion and term limits for prime ministers.

Last week was no better, as the coalition failed to pass a bill changing the makeup of the body that will choose the next chief rabbis.

Labor faction chairman Ram Shefa downplayed the problems in the coalition, telling the faction that during the coalition’s winter term, it succeeded in passing at least 50 bills into law and at least 100 in their first reading.

But Labor officials saw the cooperation of Shaked with right-wing opposition parties, and expressed concern that it could be a harbinger of more official cooperation in the future.

The passage of a bill backed by the right-wing opposition parties and opposed by Meretz and Ra’am (United Arab List) was seen as a first step toward the formation of a right-wing government in the current Knesset if opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu departs as Likud leader.