Welcome to the Tuesday News Bulletin! Jewish Currents Senior Reporter Alex Kane is constantly getting quotes and scooplets from his network of sources, and every Tuesday, he releases small stories exclusive to our newsletter subscribers in emails like this one. In addition to original reporting, the Tuesday News Bulletin serves as a forum for aggregating stories Alex and other Jewish Currents staffers are tracking, with plenty of links to other publications so you can keep up with everything happening on our beats.
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The Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem, October 30th, 2018
March 15th, 2022
On Friday, Israel’s Knesset approved a law reauthorizing a ban on giving Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens permanent residency status. Passed with 45 Knesset members in favor and 15 opposed, the Citizenship and Entry Into Israel law impacts thousands of families, though the exact number is unclear. It bars Palestinians living in the West Bank or Gaza who are married to Israeli citizens from gaining the legal benefits foreign spouses typically receive in liberal democracies. (The law also applies to citizens of so-called “enemy states”—Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, and Syria—but in practice it mostly impacts Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza.)
Such spouses, even if they get permission to live in Israel, cannot open a bank account and are unemployable if bosses don’t want to run the risk of hiring someone who may leave after one year. They also cannot get an Israeli ID, forcing them to carry Palestinian IDs, which can raise the suspicion of Israeli police officers. Most Palestinians in this situation have to renew temporary permits every year by proving that their relationship is real and that their life is centered in Israel. But those temporary permits are not available to men under 35 or women under 25. Spouses without permission to temporarily reside in Israel with their partners must live in the shadows, fearing deportation, or else resign themselves to separation from their family. Foreign, non-Palestinian partners marrying Israeli Jews do not face the same restrictions.
Before the law was passed in 2003, an estimated 130,000 Palestinians were given Israeli citizenship or residency through family unification. The measure, reauthorized every year since its original passage (save for last year) is perhaps the most controversial legislation ever passed by the Knesset. It was recently cited by both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International as evidence for Israel’s guilt of the crime of apartheid. Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, called it “one of the most racist and discriminatory laws in the world,” as “no other state bans its citizens from exercising their basic right to family life, based solely on their national or ethnic identity.”
“This is one of the clearest laws that enshrines the racial segregation between Israelis and Palestinians,” said Adi Mansour, an attorney for Adalah. “We’re talking about a law that basically tells Palestinians, ‘You are not equal.’ It tells them, ‘You cannot gain citizenship. You don’t have the privilege that we grant Jews coming from abroad.’”
But in Israel, there is widespread support for the law across much of the political spectrum. The right-wing parties pushed for it, but so did Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, the head of the centrist party Yesh Atid. Rather than go on the record regarding the law, Labor Party members didn’t show up to vote last week. The only parties that did oppose it were the left-wing Meretz and the parties dominated by Palestinian citizens of Israel: Balad, Hadash, United Arab List, and Ta’al.
The law is popular because “it plays into two narratives which are very dominant in the Israeli political system,” said Yuval Sheny, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute and a member of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Faculty of Law. “One is a security narrative” with the notion that “people originating from the West Bank and Gaza have allegiance to the Palestinian cause and are more amenable to supporting violent action.” (Among Palestinians in Israel due to family unification, about 48 were involved in militant activities between 2001 and 2021, according to the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency.)
The other narrative, said Sheny, is the imperative of protecting a Jewish majority. “There’s a significant constituency” in Israel that sees family unification as “exercising a slow ‘right of return’ into Israel,” as Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said last month.
Fear that failure to renew the law would imperil Israel’s Jewish demographic majority was openly voiced in the run-up to last week’s vote. “We shouldn’t hide the essence of the Citizenship Law,” Lapid said last July. “It’s one of the tools aimed at ensuring a Jewish majority in the State of Israel.” Lapid made those remarks the day before the Knesset failed to reauthorize the law for the first year since it was originally passed in 2003. Two members of Ra’am, an Arab party that is part of the governing coalition, abstained on the Knesset vote, while a member of Yamina, the right-wing party headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, voted against the law, along with the Likud Party. The right-wingers did so not out of any real opposition to the law—they are in fact its most ardent supporters—but in an attempt to embarrass and destabilize Bennett’s coalition, which includes both left- and right-wing parties.
But not much changed after the law’s expiration. Shaked, the interior minister, directed her ministry to continue as if the law was still in place, which in practice means denying most applications for permanent status. Then, last week, the law passed again, with some minor revisions—for instance, that women who don’t have residency status and are victims of domestic violence can apply to a “humanitarian committee” for permanent status. Another change makes the purpose of the law more explicit, saying that it is meant to help protect Israel’s “Jewish and democratic” status.
The reference to demographics rankles Palestinians and Israeli leftists, and will be key to future legal arguments over the law. On Sunday, Adalah brought a suit against the law to Israel’s Supreme Court, arguing that it is discriminatory and should be struck down. But the chances of the court striking it down are slim. On two occasions—in 2006 and 2012—the Supreme Court upheld the law, agreeing with the state’s argument that the law is necessary for security reasons. As one judge said in the 2012 case, “human rights shouldn’t be a recipe for national suicide.”
“The situation in the Supreme Court is bad,” said Mansour, the Adalah attorney. “We’re talking about a court that has taken a right turn. Some of them are settlers in the West Bank.” Now it’s those judges, who benefit from Israel’s system of Jewish privilege, who will decide the fate of thousands of Palestinian families.
On March 8th, Palestinian activists held a small protest against Israeli colonization and occupation to mark International Women’s Day at Damascus Gate, in Jerusalem. Protesters held posters of Palestinian female prisoners in Israeli jails and chanted for liberation.
As part of the Tuesday News Bulletin, Jewish Currents is publishing a photograph taken by members of Activestills every week, archiving ongoing dispossession and resistance from the river to the sea. You can find more information on this collaboration here.
Congress authorized $4.8 billion in US military aid to Israel last week as part of an omnibus spending package. That money includes Israel’s annual allotment of $3.8 billion in aid, as well an extra $1 billion to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket system after the IDF made extensive use of it during last May’s escalation of violence. The extra $1 billion in Iron Dome funding was the subject of an unusual amount of debate in recent months, with some progressives opposing the funding because it gives Israel more military aid without conditions. The bill also included the Israel Relations Normalization Act, which directs the State Department to publicly outline a strategy to strengthen Israel’s normalization deals with certain Arab governments, known as the Abraham Accords.
Last week, former Vice President Mike Pence visited the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, and was photographed meeting the far-right Jewish extremists Itamar Ben-Gvir (a member of Israel’s Knesset) and Baruch Marzel. Both Ben-Gvir and Marzel were followers of Meir Kahane, the Israeli American rabbi who advocated for the mass expulsion of Palestinians from territory under Israeli control. Pence flew to Israel on a plane loaned to him by Miriam Adelson, the Israeli American wife of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who died last year. The borrowed jet was seen as an indication that Adelson, a major bankroller of the GOP, could back Pence if he decides to run for president in 2024.
On March 7th, Israeli forces raided the home of Palestinian French activist Salah Hamouri and arrested him. Hamouri is a lawyer who has already spent over ten years in Israeli prisons over alleged membership in the the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a leftist political party that also has a militant wing that has carried out attacks against Israelis. Last year, Israel’s interior minister stripped Hamouri of his Jerusalem residency status, based on a law that allows Israel to do so if the person commits a “breach of allegiance” to the State of Israel. Hamouri’s phone was also hacked last year by the NSO Group’s infamous Pegasus spyware. Since the removal of his residency status, Hamouri has lived in Kufr Aqab, a village just north of Jerusalem cut off from most of the rest of the city by Israel’s separation wall. Hamouri’s arrest came a day after he published an article in Jacobin about his ordeal at the hands of Israeli authorities.
- All 25 Jewish Democrats in the House of Representatives issued a joint statement condemning Amnesty International USA head Paul O’Brien, who in recent remarks said he doubted that most American Jews believe Israel should remain a Jewish state. O’Brien’s remarks attracted attention because he said Amnesty is opposed to the idea of Israel as a Jewish state. “I believe my gut tells me that what Jewish people in this country want is to know that there’s a sanctuary that is a safe and sustainable place that the Jews, the Jewish people can call home,” as opposed to a state that privileges Jews over Palestinians, O’Brien, who is not Jewish, said in his address to the Women’s National Democratic Club in Washington, DC. In their statement, the Jewish House Democrats said that O’Brien’s words were a “patronizing attempt to speak on behalf of the American Jewish community” that was “alarming and deeply offensive.”
- The Sierra Club, one of America’s oldest and most prominent environmental groups, has canceled an upcoming trip to Israel after Palestinian rights groups and allies pressured it to do so. The Sierra Club’s past trips to Israel were environmental-themed tours costing $5,000 per person. In a February 22nd letter to the Sierra Club, a coalition of groups including the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, the Movement for Black Lives, Jewish Voice for Peace, and more, wrote that “by promoting a false image of Israel as environmentally-friendly, these trips erase both the existence of the Palestinian people and Israel’s systemic racism and discrimination against them, and greenwash Israel’s system of apartheid and its illegal colonization of occupied Palestinian and Syrian lands.”
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said today that Russia had received assurances from the US that sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine would not impede Russia’s ability to trade with Iran. Russia’s worry over whether Western sanctions would impact its trade with Iran have reportedly held up the completion of a return to the Obama administration’s 2015 nuclear deal, which would see the US lift sanctions on the Islamic Republic in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear activities.