Arab party Ra'am threatens Bennett's coalition over citizenship bill

There are three versions of the bill, which will all be brought to a vote.

 Ra'am MK Waleed Taha at the Knesset plenum, January 4, 2022 (photo credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ/KNESSET)
Ra'am MK Waleed Taha at the Knesset plenum, January 4, 2022
(photo credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ/KNESSET)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s cabinet voted 18-8 on Sunday to remove obstacles to the controversial citizenship bills that would tighten immigration controls and make it harder for Palestinians who marry Arab-Israelis to receive citizenship.

Three versions of the bill, sponsored by Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina), Religious Zionist Party MK Simcha Rothman and Likud MK Avi Dichter, will be brought to a vote in their first reading on Monday. The coalition so far has failed to pass any of them due to internal dissent and the opposition’s refusal to pass bills sponsored by the coalition.

Bennett decided against letting MKs vote with their conscience on Shaked’s bill, which the coalition supports, but said he would suspend coalition discipline for Rothman’s bill.

“More than 100 MKs support the bill, which is important for the nation’s security and for maintaining its Jewish character,” Shaked wrote on Twitter.

The new strategy of not enforcing coalition discipline is intended to enable at least one version of the bill to pass into law, as the High Court of Justice requires. But Meretz, which opposes all three versions of the bill, vowed to take revenge against the coalition.

 Tamar Zandberg at EXPO 2020, Dubai, United Arab Emirates (credit: Environmental Protection Ministry) Tamar Zandberg at EXPO 2020, Dubai, United Arab Emirates (credit: Environmental Protection Ministry)

Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz said the bills were racist and discriminatory and do not belong in a democratic country.

“The decision to cooperate in passing the bill with [Benjamin] Netanyahu, [Bezalel] Smotrich and [Itamar] Ben-Gvir is a gross violation of the coalition agreement, and Meretz won’t allow it, not even by looking the other way,” he said.

Ra’am (United Arab List) faction head Waleed Taha on Sunday said his party’s MKs could vote however they want if the coalition does not enforce discipline.

During Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli said: “The Labor Party has always been a party of security and will support his law now, too, because of the security considerations.”

“But we cannot ignore the problems the law touches on, the largest and most genuine of which is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is at the root of this problem,” she said. “This debate should make it clear that Israel cannot continue to ignore the problem. There is no alternative to reaching an agreement that will save the State of Israel and the Zionist vision and will prevent Israel from withering away into a binational state.”

After Shaked’s bill fell in July due to the last-minute defection of rebel MK Amichai Chikli, Shaked continued preventing Palestinian family reunification. But the High Court last month ruled she could not act as if the bill passed.

Shaked then tried passing Rothman’s bill and succeeded in getting it through the ministerial committee on legislation. But Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid appealed and prevented the bill from moving forward until now.