Government faces major defeat over Citizenship Law extension

The government early Tuesday, June 6, was defeated over the law to extend the 2003 legislation barring automatic Israeli citizenship for Palestinians married to Israeli citizens. The count was 59:59, with the opposition Likud, Religious Zionism party and the United Arab Front voting against. To gain the support of the left-wing Labor and Meretz, who said the measure was discriminatory and a demographic tool, as well as the Arab Raam, Prime Minister Naftalli Bennett had earlier offered a compromise. The measure, which expires on Tuesday night, would be extended for only six months; residency visas would be issued to 1,600 families and humanitarian solutions for another 9,700 Palestinians residing in Israel on military-issued stay permits.

The left-wing parties indeed voted with the government, but Raam split, with two lawmakers for and two against the measure. The scale against the law was tipped by Amichai Shikli, a member of the prime minister’s Yamina, who voted with the opposition. He maintained that he could not support a confidence vote in a government whose “patchwork” composition he had resisted from the word go.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, who presented the motion, denounced the opposition as anti-Zionist and acting against the interests of national security. The law was designed to prevent Palestinian terrorists from gaining citizenship by tens of thousands of mock marriages to Israelis.  Likud, which initiated the law, had approved its extension year after year while in government.

Its leaders now in opposition were committed to bringing down the new government as its top priority. While this setback has not brought the government down, the coalition’s eight member-parties are clearly at odds on major issues and holding it together will present its leaders Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid with a constant battle. After this victory, the opposition will be further encouraged to batter at the government’s slender majority.

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