NGO Monitor Analysis (Vol. 1 No. 12) 20 August 2003
NGOs Condemn Israel for Citizenship Rules, Ignoring Context and Impact
In recent weeks, three NGOs -- Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Adalah (based in the Israeli Arab sector) -- have embarked on a major campaign to condemn the Israeli Knesset's adoption of an amendment to Israel's citizenship law. In their barrage of press releases and email "alerts" on this issue, these organizations continue to exercise selective morality in their use of politically loaded terms such as "racist", "discriminatory", and "scandalous". Similar terms were used by the NGO community in the infamous Durban Conference on Racism in 2001, and continue to be part of the systematic distortion of legitimate Israeli concerns related to security and survival in a very hostile environment.
The purpose of the legislation, which was passed for a one-year trail period, is to control the inflow of Palestinians qualifying for Israeli citizenship. As serious analysts have noted, this issue arose against the background of the decades long ethno-national conflict and the extreme violence of the past three years. In the past decade (since the beginning of the Oslo process), 200,000 Palestinians have received citizenship under family unification provisions. This constitutes an increase of approximately 20% in the Arab population of Israel in this period, and a major change in the politically and culturally sensitive population balance.
The wider debate that surrounds the amendment poses important questions for all democratic societies, particular in the context of the delicate equilibrium and interaction between individual and collective cultural rights. As the world's only Jewish state, (compared to many Arab, Moslem and Christian states), Israel has the natural right to adopt policies necessary to maintain its unique historic and cultural identity. In addition, many Palestinians have declared their intention to use the demographic weapon to overwhelm Israel from within, and this dimension cannot be ignored when considering the impact of the movement of a large number of Palestinians to Israel via marriage.
None of these issues were mentioned in the NGO campaign against this law. Moreover, the policy of blanket condemnation of Israeli policy is illustrated in the eye-catching headline of the Human Rights Watch report on this issue, -- " Don't Outlaw Family Life." This is a blatant distortion intended to obfuscate the real issue of cultural identity and collective rights.
In contrast to the a-priori condemnation from these NGOs, Prof. Ruth Gavison (former president of a major Israeli NGO - the Association for Civil Rights in Israel -- and a member of the International Commission of Jurists) wrote "The justice of the amendment to the Citizenship Law is anchored in maintaining the Jewish People's right to self-determination. … The citizen of one country who chooses to bind his life with that of another person who is not eligible to reside in that country must take into account that carrying on life together can be done only in another country. …. a citizen's right in this context is only that his request will be dealt with without invalid discrimination …." As Gavison emphasizes, "The amendment specifies that this is a unique group [Palestinians who reside in the territories], whose family unification requests may justifiably not be dealt with in the same manner as those of other groups."
In analyzing this amendment, Prof. Gavison declares that "whoever believes that it is justified for it to be a Jewish state, must accept that it is permissible, and maybe even obligatory, for it to maintain the conditions which will allow for its continued existence …. The idea of a Jewish state is justifiable for reasons based on security and the well being of the community, and also on cultural and identity grounds. This entails the Jewish state being in control over migration into the country, including ensuring that there is a Jewish majority through legitimate means, and preserving a Jewish-Hebraic popular culture. It includes also ensuring the full rights of minorities, but at the same time ensuring that the minorities are not allowed to de-legitimate the continuation of the State of Israel as a Jewish state. Under present circumstances, these points should provide a rational basis for singling out the Palestinians who are residents of the territories vis-a-vis emigration
policies and family unification."
In contrast, these core issue are entirely ignored in the blanket and politically-motivated condemnations of the NGOs.
The NGO press releases also failed to even mention the use of fictitious marriages to obtain citizenship, which is an issue that is not unique to Israel. In other countries, including those which place themselves at the forefront of universal human rights issues, and which do not face the existential threats that are part of the Israeli environment, there are also limitations on acquisition of citizenship.
Finally, the role of democracy and judicial review in Israel are at least as active and robust as is the case in other Western democratic countries. Following the Knesset debate and vote, the Issues of family unity and other civil rights issues related to the amendment will be fully examined in appeals before the Israeli courts.
In guaranteeing human and cultural rights for all, the rights of individuals have to be weighed carefully against collective rights, including the implications for national survival and security. But despite their commitment to "universal human rights', these NGOs -- HRW, Amnesty International, and Adalah (funded, in part, by the New Israel Fund) ---- ignore this complex balance. Their intense public relations campaign which uses language designed to continue the demonization of Israel, is entirely political. The time for a change in this anti-human rights policy, on the part of both the directors of these groups and their supporters, is long overdue.
Gerald M. Steinberg
The full text of the FAMILY UNIFICATION IN TWO STATES
Prof. Ruth Gavison, Yediot Ahronot, 5.Aug.2003, p. B11
[Translated by The Israel Government Press Office]
The justice of the amendment to the Citizenship Law is anchored in
maintaining the Jewish People's right to self-determination.
The amendment to the Citizenship Law which was approved on the last day of
the Knesset's [summer] session faces Israel with a major challenge - moral,
political and legal. It determines that applications by Palestinians who
reside in the territories to be united with their spouses and families in
Israel will no longer be done according to the general principle for family
reunification requests, as long and difficult as it may be. The relevant
considerations will not deal only with the personal and particular aspects
of the one applying to receive residency and citizenship by virtue of family
unification but with systemic and general aspects as well. A Palestinian
residing in the territories and the Israeli citizen who is a member of his
family will no longer have the right to family unification as before.
Arab and international organizations have already condemned the new law as
racist and discriminatory, and as infringing on the right to carry on family
life. Even in the US, it is being said that the law must be checked to see
whether or not it meets the necessary standards vis-?-vis the principle of
non-discrimination. And this is only the beginning. There is no doubt that
the High Court of Justice will be asked to rule on the claim that the law is
unconstitutional, so we can expect tensions within the legal system and in
relations between the legislature, government and the courts.
The right to maintain family life, with all its importance, is not doing the
work here. The citizen of one country who chooses to bind his life with that
of another person who is not eligible to reside in that country must take
into account that carrying on life together can be done only in another
country. True, most countries - Israel among them - make it easier for their
citizens to provide residency and citizenship to close family members who
are not citizens from the outset, but a citizen's right in this context is
only that his request will be dealt with without invalid discrimination or
There is no doubt that the new law is based on ethnic classification,
suspect at first glance, i.e. Palestinians who reside in the territories.
The amendment specifies that this is a unique group, whose family
unification requests may justifiably not be dealt with in the same manner as
those of other groups. The law's constitutional and moral validity are based
on the persuasiveness of this claim (I will not discuss here the important
question whether the provisions of the law meet the constitutional
requirement of proportionality).
Some seek to justify the invocation of this suspect classification based on
neutral reasons of "security." I think that this claim is not persuasive.
The real possible justification lays in its being part of the effort of
ensuring Israel's future as a state in which the Jewish people can realize
their rights to self determination against the background of the existing
conditions in the area at this time. A Jewish state must not discriminate
between its citizens, and it also cannot discriminate against those who ask
to reside in it, even if the person does not have an entrenched right to do
so. But whoever believes that it is justified for it to be a Jewish state,
must accept that it is permissible, and maybe even obligatory, for it to
maintain the conditions which will allow for its continued existence, as
long as they do not harm the rights of others, both those living in it and
The idea of a Jewish state is justifiable for reasons based on security and
the well being of the community, and also on cultural and identity grounds.
This entails the Jewish state being in control over migration into the
country, including ensuring that there is a Jewish majority through
legitimate means, and preserving a Jewish-Hebraic popular culture. It
includes also ensuring the full rights of minorities, but at the same time
ensuring that the minorities are not allowed to de-legitimate the
continuation of the State of Israel as a Jewish state. Under present
circumstances, these points should provide a rational basis for singling out
the Palestinians who are residents of the territories vis-a-vis emigration
policies and family unification.
Anyone who advocates a stable solution of two states for two peoples cannot
demand recognition of the Palestinian right for family reunification within
the borders of the State of Israel, irrespective of numbers or the nature of
the relations between the communities. Generally, Palestinian families
should unify in their state, and Jewish families should unify in theirs.
This principle will help to stabilize the independent migration of the two
nations, and will reduce the danger of deteriorating into civil war or
irredentism in the two states. Such stability in itself will help to
maintain both individual and group rights and in dealing with family
unification requests on a humanitarian and individual basis, as is
(Prof. Ruth Gavison is a full professor at the Hebrew University
Faculty of Law. She was president of the Association for Civil Rights in
Israel (ACRI) 1996-1999. Gavison is a member of the International Commission
of Jurists and a Senior Fellow, Israel Democracy Institute, since 1997.)