Israeli High Court okays Citizenship Law, legalizing racial discrimination of Arabs
January 12, 2012According to the 2003 law, Arab citizens of Israel who marry Palestinians will have to emigrate in order to live with their spouses.
Israeli Arab MK Ahmed Tibi famously said that "Israel is indeed a Jewish-democratic state: it is democratic for Jews and Jewish for all the rest."
This rings truer than ever after Israel’s High Court of Justice rejected yesterday (again) the petitions against the Citizenship Law, one of the first measures to make racial discrimination against the Arab minority not just common practice, but part of Israel’s legal codex.
The High Court rejected the petitions against the Citizenship Law in a split, 6-5 decision. The incoming head of the High Court, Justice Asher Grunis, wrote in the decision that "human rights shouldn’t be a recipe for national suicide." You can read the full verdict here [Hebrew, PDF]. Justice Edmond Levy, a religious and somewhat conservative judge, harshly criticized Grunis for his language, claiming he misled the public as to the nature of the citizenship law.
The Citizenship Law, which technically is a temporary order, came into effect in 2003. It determines that Palestinian non-citizens who marry Israeli citizens will not be eligible for Israeli residency or citizenship. The couple will only be able to unite outside the borders of Israel.
The practical meaning of the law is that Arab citizens of Israel who marry Palestinian non-citizens – something that happens quite often, since these are members of the same nation, and sometimes of the same communities – won’t be able to live with their wives or husbands. If they want to unite, they will have to leave the country. By doing so, the law achieves two (racist) objectives against members of the Arab minority: (a) it prevents non-Jews from entering the country and applying for permanent residency or citizenship and (b) it makes it harder for Israeli Arab citizens to build families in their own community or in their own country, thus encouraging them to leave Israel. Arab Palestinians comprise roughly 20 percent of Israel’s population.
It is important to note that it is not the right of the non-citizen wife or husband that is being violated (since the state has no legal obligation towards them), but that of the citizen, who should enjoy the possibility to form a family and live with his loved one in his own community.
When the citizenship law came into effect, during the second Intifada, a security pretext was used to justify it, claiming that Palestinian terrorists could use marriage to become Israeli citizens. Yet this argument doesn’t hold: even without the law, the security establishment can veto any demand for citizenship or residency. It’s clear – and the public debate around the law doesn’t even try to conceal this fact – that "demographic" issues were the real motive for the legislation, and more specifically, the desire to limit, and ultimately even reduce, the number of non-Jewish citizens in the state.
Until the citizenship order, the only major piece of Israeli legislation that made a clear distinction between Arabs and Jews was the Law of Return, which makes it possible for Jews to immigrate to Israel and become citizens instantly, while non-Jews aren’t allowed to do so, even if their families originally hailed from this land. The 2003 law marks perhaps a new era, in which discrimination against the Arab minority is not only a common practice – for example, in the prevention of Palestinians from buying or building on state land, through the use of state agencies such as the JNF – but an explicit part of the body of laws that apply to the citizens of the state.
The new Nakba Law, which allows the state to penalize institutions that commemorate the Palestinian national disaster of 1948, is further evidence of this fact. The High Court also rejected petitions against the Nakab bill, just last week.