Following the announcement made by the Likud party on Monday that it intends to vote against the extension of the Family Reunification Law, Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel (New Hope) has called on both the Likud and the Religious Zionism parties to reconsider their position and vote in favor of the law.
The Family Reunification Law severely limits the granting of citizenship and residency rights to the spouses of Israeli Arabs living in PA-controlled areas, and has been supported by right-wing parties in the past, regardless of whether they were in the government or the opposition.
Instead of supporting the extension of the current law, the Likud proposes legislating a new Basic Law: Immigration to Israel, which would resolve the issue on a permanent basis. According to Hendel, there are a number of legal problems with this proposal, and he does not foresee it being passed – nor does he consider it the Likud’s true intention to attempt to do so.
“This ‘Basic Law on Immigration’ is just spin,” Hendel told Reshet Bet on Tuesday. “Our number-one priority is to close the breach, as the current law has already expired and now, Likud and Religious Zionism have to decide whether or not they will support this Zionist law [being extended].”
Hendel noted that, “For many years already, all the Zionist parties knew how to focus on the real issues when it came to laws that were of vital national importance [even when they were in the opposition]. Now that Netanyahu is no longer premier, however, as far as they are concerned, the State can burn.
“The proposal they made instead,” Hendel continued, “is full of problems from a legal aspect. [There’s nothing wrong with the original law] – in fact, the Likud already began the process of extending it at the beginning of the month. Now, they’re deciding to oppose it – they’re effectively choosing ‘Bibi-ology’ over ideology.”
Asked to address sharp criticism aimed at the New Hope and Yamina parties for legitimizing the United Arab List (frequently referred to as supporters of terrorism by members of those two parties) by forming a coalition with them, Hendel rebuffed the allegations. “It is so hypocritical to say that, when the Likud, the Religious Zionism party, Rabbi Kanievsky, and various other rabbis made Mansour Abbas ‘kosher’ and that was okay – and then, when we partner with them, it’s suddenly not okay? Our ideological position has not changed – we believe in the same things we believed in last year. We’re ready to cooperate with anyone who wants to integrate, not with people who seek to create schisms.”
Commenting on the United Arab List, Hendel stressed that, “I can see the efforts Mansour Abbas [UAL party leader] is making to integrate, and I applaud this. This is part of a process that is ongoing among Israeli Arabs, and I hope that the attempt [to integrate] succeeds. I see myself as obligated to reciprocate whenever an Arab-Israeli leader makes the effort to cooperate with us and integrate into the State.”
All the same, partnering with the UAL, which is officially aligned with the southern branch of the Islamic Movement, was not the first choice of New Hope, which considers itself a right-wing party. Hendel, however, places the blame for this happening firmly on former Prime Minister Netanyahu and rejects the allegation that Naftali Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar were the ones who thwarted the establishment of a solely right-wing coalition.
“When I heard [Shas chairman Aryeh] Deri making that claim, I recalled that Deri was one of the reasons why the last government broke up,” Hendel said. “People had no faith in it. They offered the premiership to Gideon [Sa’ar], to [Naftali] Bennett, to [Benny] Gantz – it’s interesting that they didn’t make a similar offer to a member of the Likud party. I think Likud members should be asking themselves why.”