Foundation for Middle East Peace president Lara Friedman (l) and American Univ. lecturer Morad El Sana (r) unintentionally proved the need for Israel's citizenship law.
Hassan Jabareen, founder and general director of the anti-Israel organization Adalah, denounced Israel's Citizenship and Entry Law as among "crimes against humanity" during an April 26 Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP) webinar. Addressing "Legalized Discrimination: How Israel's 'Citizenship & Entry' Law Harms Palestinian Families by Design," FMEP's panelists distorted as racist a measure that is commonplace among the world's democracies.
Israeli's March renewal of this 2003 law triggered the panel moderated by FMEP's president, Lara Friedman. She damned this "infamous" law that "denies the Palestinian citizens of Israel a fundamental right that Israel's Jewish citizens" and "citizens around the world take for granted" and "hold it dear." This is namely the "right to make your life with your chosen partner or spouse in the country where you hold citizenship and make your home."
Under the law, Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens (usually Israeli Arabs, although some rare Jewish cases exist) cannot receive citizenship or residency. Unmentioned by the panelists, 2007 amendments to the law extended this prohibition to spouses from Israel's "enemy states" of Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. The law also contains exceptions for foreign men over the age of thirty-five and women over the age of twenty-five, as well as youth under the age of fourteen, to apply for annually renewable "stay permits" in order to reside in Israel.
Friedman charged that law's "intent is discriminatory" and "ethnically designed to target Palestinians and to prevent them from building families inside of Israel." This Israeli rule is at the "core of the findings" by Amnesty International "that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid," she said.
MK Aida Touma-Sliman of Israel's communist Hadash/Jabha party said the law shows "pure racist apartheid actions."
Israeli Arab Aida Touma-Sliman, a Knesset member from Israel's communist Hadash/Jabha party, echoed Friedman, stating that this Israeli law shows "pure racist apartheid actions" concerning "family life that is meant to be destroyed." Touma-Sliman contrasted how her daughter had married a Hollander, who would have no problem gaining Israeli residency or even citizenship. "There is no other state in the world that bans its citizens to have family reunification only based on ethnic affiliation," Jabareen claimed.
The panel focused on the travails of Morad El Sana, an Israeli Arab and adjunct professorial lecturer in the Department of Critical Race, Gender, and Culture Studies at American University who teaches on matters such as Middle East colonialism and Arabs in Israel. While working as an Adalah staff attorney in 2001-2009, he and his Palestinian wife were among the petitioners in Adalah's 2003 Israeli Supreme Court challenge to the law. The court in 2006 upheld the law in a six-to-five decision.
Sana described how "very hard" life can be for Israeli Arabs marrying Palestinians. In 2002, at the height of the Palestinian Second Intifada's terror campaign against Israel, Israeli authorities prohibited Sana's bride from visiting his village near Beersheba for the wedding. He then held the wedding in his wife's hometown of Bethlehem, but guests could not attend because "Bethlehem was under siege in 2002," he noted.
In 2003, the Citizenship and Entry "law was applied to us retroactively. The law destroyed our life," Sana claimed. As a non-citizen, his wife cannot drive a car, work, or study in Israel, and has no access to the Israeli healthcare system. Thus "she is almost paralyzed. She is a prisoner in her house," he said.
Sana's "kids were traumatized" by "unbearable treatment" during family travels to Bethlehem that crossed Israeli checkpoints. Israeli security forces performed dog searches of the kids and their car. His Palestinian wife could not travel through Israel's Ben Gurion Airport, and therefore the couple had to travel to Jordan in order to fly internationally, a "nightmare" with small children, he said.
The panel's one-sided emphasis on personal difficulties completely ignores the law's considerable justifications.
The panel's one-sided emphasis on such personal difficulties completely ignores the law's considerable justifications. The law's origins lie in the March 31, 2002, suicide bombing by Hamas member Shadi Tubasi of a Haifa restaurant that claimed sixteen lives. He lived in the West Bank city of Jenin, but easily entered Israel thanks to the Israeli citizenship conferred on him by his Israeli Arab mother, who married a Palestinian in Jenin and never returned to Israel.
Given the jihadist sentiments permeating Palestinian culture, Tubasi has not remained an exception. The Israeli Security Agency (Shin Bet) reported in 2018 that since 2001 some 155 individuals involved in terrorism had entered Israel via family reunification. In the years 2001-2016, children of family reunification represented about five percent of Israel's "Arab sector," but fifteen percent of Israeli Arab terrorists.
Even Palestinians who became Israeli citizens and did not engage in terrorism have hardly strengthened Israel. Omar Barghouti, who married an Israeli Arab woman in 1993, later founded the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign against Israel. Such facts belie Touma-Sliman's claim that Palestinians affected by the Citizenship and Entry Law were not "more than in general" involved in terrorism.
Israel's citizenship rules for spouses are "standard throughout Europe and North America."
In this context, as Foundation for the Defense of the Democracies adjunct fellow Shany Mor has noted, Israel's citizenship rules for spouses are "standard throughout Europe and North America." These countries have "citizenship tests, loyalty oaths, adherence to local 'values,' security requirements, and preference for certain nationalities (for example, Nordics, including non-EU members, for Danish citizenship)," he tweeted.
Traditionally liberal Israeli legal scholars also supported the Citizenship and Entry Law. Thereby the late Ruth Gavison had noted that European countries such as The Netherlands had worried about importing a "radical Muslim population" that will "oppose the host country's character or values." Thinking of cases such as Sana's, Knesset member Simcha Rothman from the rightwing Religious Zionism party concluded that "these stories are sad, they're tragic. But we don't make policy based on tragedies."
Ultimately Sana's plight results from a dangerous hostility to Israel that his activist associates in academia and think tanks such as FMEP have only inflamed. The hard realities of Israel's self-defense deserve critical analysis, not skewed polemics. Alongside FMEP, the anti-Israel industry in Middle East studies has demonstrated once again what a lavishly-funded waste it is.
Andrew E. Harrod, a Middle East Forum Campus Watch Fellow, freelance researcher, and writer, is a fellow with the Lawfare Project. Follow him on Twitter: @AEHarrod.