The Jerusalem Post
Bennett accuses opposition of ‘petty politics’ for failed law
PM charges: Not passing citizenship law harms ‘Zionist character of the state’
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.
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.
Minister’s Office Abir Kara – was meant to send a message that despite the setback, despite the parliamentary loss, the government will carry on.
After relating briefly to the Knesset vote, and charging that the opposition directly harmed the security of the state out of “bitterness and frustration,” Bennett said that “all those who voted against the citizenship law, from Bibi through Tibi to Chikli opted for petty politics over the good of the country, and they will have to give an accounting for a long time to the citizens of Israel for their actions.”
He was referring to odd bedfellows opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, the Joint List’s Ahmad Tibi, and Amichai Chikli, of Bennett’s own Yamina Party, whose vote against the measure deprived the coalition of a victory.
The government, Bennett continued, is looking ahead. “I want to direct attention to the things that we want to advance, because in the end sleepless nights and petty maneuvers in the Knesset don’t help a person who wants to establish a business, or a family that is trying to earn a living.”
Still, all the talk about trimming bureaucracy and cutting regulations to help the economy emerge from the coronavirus could not conceal the fact that the coalition, its leaders and all its parts suffered a significant loss on Tuesday.
But they were not the only losers in this battle over the law. The Likud, as well as the other rightwing parties, also lost. This was a rare instance in which it is difficult to identify any unequivocal political winner.
Even Ayman Odeh and Tibi’s Joint List, which cheered along with the Likud and Religious Zionist Party when the 59-59 vote tally was announced, did not secure a complete victory, despite their happy selfies, flashed “V for victory” signs and self-congratulatory tweets.
This Arab party was the closest thing to a winner in this Knesset drama because it has long opposed this measure on ideological grounds since it prevents Palestinians from gaining citizenship to live with their Israeli-Arab spouses inside Israel. Yet it is not a complete victory for them because to secure it they teamed up with the Likud and religious-Zionist and haredi parties, whose aim was not to cancel the law, but to embarrass and weaken the government, in order to eventually bring it down and replace it with a right-wing government led, again, by Netanyahu.
So the Joint List may have won an ideological skirmish here, but they did it at the expense of exposing cracks in the coalition that, if they widen, could ultimately bring down the government and replace Bennett with Netanyahu, definitely not something the party wants to see. This is a victory for the Joint List that contains within it the seeds of a much greater defeat for them.
All the other political actors were losers.
The biggest loser was Bennett. This vote revealed the fragility of his government, and showed that even with all the goodwill and willingness to compromise in the world, that is not enough. It showed that Yamina cannot count on Chikli to vote for it, and that the coalition on paper that has 62 seats, really only has 61, which won’t be enough to pass controversial legislation because there will also probably always be abstentions on ideological grounds.
Even worse, the vote revealed the political weakness of the new prime minister. Though all of the Labor and Meretz MKs voted for the law after a compromise was hammered out, and though half of Ra’am (United Arab List) voted for it (the party’s other two MKs abstained) in the end it was torpedoed because Bennett himself could not deliver all the votes in his small seven-seat faction. If he was unable to deliver the votes this time, then there is no reason to think he will be able to do so next time. This vote made an already weak political leader appear even weaker.
Meretz and Ra’am also came out as losers in this battle because they voted against their ideology, and didn’t gain anything for their trouble. On the contrary, they will now have to answer to their constituents.
As former Meretz head Zehava Gal-On tweeted, “In my nightmare, I never dreamed that when I woke up in the morning I would see my colleagues in Meretz vote for an extension of the temporary order that prevents family reunification. It’s good that this racist law has fallen.”
Netanyahu and the Likud also should be wary of viewing this vote as a victory.
Granted, they embarrassed the government and revealed how weak it is, but at what price? At the price of voting against something that the security establishment determined was important for Israel’s security. At the cost of voting against something they have supported for the last 18 years.
Likud stalwarts who will support Netanyahu no matter what, will likely not be swayed against the former prime minister because of this vote. But Likud fence-sitters, and some do exist and could be important in a close election, may be turned off by this blatant act of political cynicism.
To quote Abraham Lincoln in 1863 during the US Civil War, “One fundamental principle of politics is to be always on the side of your country in a war.”
The spectacle of Likud Mks rejoicing with Hadash’s Ofer Cassif and Balad’s Sami Abou Shahadeh will be replayed in loops whenever this country goes to another election. And when that happens, it is not likely to gain the Likud any additional voters.
“Just as they always show how Bibi voted in favor of the disengagement [from Gaza], for many years they will show the MKs who willingly chose to harm Israel,” Bennett said of the opposition MKs at his press conference. “It’s a shame. This did not harm us, they did not harm the government, they harmed the State of Israel.” •