In the story of Ethiopian Jewish immigration, is Israel really the hero?

Of interest:

When we hear about racism or discrimination in Israel, it is usually about Jewish-Arab relations. It is far more rare that we hear the complicated story of Beta Israel, the Ethiopian Jewish community, who also face discrimination in the country. Usually, if we hear anything about their plight, we hear of Israel heroically airlifting thousands of Ethiopian Jews out of the country in covert operations. The truth of the story if far more complicated.

“With No Land,” a documentary about the Ethiopian Jews and their immigration to Israel, directed by Ethiopian immigrant Aalam-Warqe Davidian and Israeli native Kobi Davidian, a husband-wife filmmaker pair, sheds some light on the complexities involved in the Ethiopian Aliyah, giving far greater agency to the Ethiopian activists who worked to evacuate their community.

“I was astonished to hear a lot of stories about their work and their struggle to come to Israel,” Davidian told the Times of Israel in an interview about the documentary. “What I learned [growing up] is that they didn’t do anything, we just came and took them.”

Discourse around Operation Moses and Operation Solomon, the missions which airlifted thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, often portray Israel as the heroic rescuers of a persecuted Jewish minority. But in fact, activists from Beta Israel had to push the Israeli government to help their community immigrate, especially after the Israeli Ministry of Absorption decreed that they were foreign to the Jewish people and thus ineligible to make aliyah under the Law of Return; that decision was reversed in 1977 after hard advocacy work.

Even once the first major wave of Ethiopian migrants arrived in Israel after Operation Moses, in 1984, they did not find the safety and welcome they had hoped for. Activist Adiso Masala recalls being taken, without explanation or consent as almost none of the Ethiopian refugees spoke Hebrew, to a room to be vaccinated — and, it turned out, re-circumcised; the circumcisions only ceased after more than a month of protests.

The documentary interviews many of the major players in the movement to evacuate Beta Israel, largely Ethiopian Jews, discussing the larger politics at play that impacted the waves of immigration. Operation Moses, for example, depended on secrecy; a fragile agreement with Sudan allowed Israel to fly members of Beta Israel out, but once Israeli journalists broke the story, Sudan’s Arab allies began pressuring the country to put a stop to the operation.

We also learn that Operation Solomon, a high-pressure mission in 1991 evacuating over 14,000 Ethiopian Jews in 36 hours, was a result of Cold War politics. Ethiopia’s Soviet-supported Mengistu regime had been preventing the migration of the Ethiopian Jewry. But after the collapse of the U.S.S.R., Mengistu was struggling to maintain power and hoped to instead gain support from the U.S. — an opportune moment to push to evacuate the Ethiopian Jewry.

Most effectively highlighted by the documentary are the families often separated during the immigration process. The sudden end of Operation Moses in 1985 stranded hundreds of Ethiopian Jews — all of whom had risked their lives walking for weeks through the desert to arrive at the operation’s pickup point — in refugee camps in Sudan after the airlifts were stopped.

Other families were separated during the immigration process due to arbitrary rulings from Israeli immigration authorities. A mother and six out of her seven children, for example, were approved for entry to Israel but her daughter is still, even today, in Ethiopia — where she is now married and has children of her own, still hoping to one day unite with her family.

The amount of history that is covered in the documentary can be overwhelming and hard to follow, but that’s not entirely its fault. Documentaries on topics more well-known in the West can rely on their audience’s preexisting knowledge of the event; films on the Holocaust can focus on specific aspects of the Nazi regime because viewers already know the broad brushstrokes of World War II.

African politics and history, whether the Sudanese civil war that impacted Operation Moses or Ethiopian ethnic tensions,are often left out of our history books and mainstream news coverage. “With No Land” has to explain the entire landscape of the region as well as the Israeli government’s suspicion of Beta Israel and the tensions with the migration.

That tension continues even today; though immigration has become slightly easier, and the documentary ends with shots of planes from Addis Ababa filled with migrants in surgical masks — the universal visual symbol of our current era — Beta Israel is still not truly welcome in Israel. The Israeli Immigration and Population Authority released a statement just this past November casting doubt on the Jewishness of a group of migrants from Ethiopia. The Israeli National Security Agency similarly implied many Ethiopian migrants are lying about their religion and ethnicity to get into Israel.

There are few members of Beta Israel left in Ethiopia today; most have finally moved to Israel. But it’s clear that even after aliyah, the problems of the Ethiopian Jewry persist.

Source: In the story of Ethiopian Jewish immigration, is Israel really the hero?

Galon: The inherent evil of Israel’s Citizenship Law

Of note:

The government has informed the High Court of Justice that Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked plans to pass a new citizenship law within a month – and that it will preserve the racist clauses that were included in the original law. The government was responding to a petition submitted by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel; Hamoked: The Center for the Defense of the Individual; Physicians for Human Rights and several Palestinian petitioners.

Shaked has continued to refuse family reunification for Palestinians, and has done so without any legal authority. Since the Knesset revoked the original Citizenship and Entry Into Israel Law, 1,680 requests have been submitted, and under Shaked’s instructions the Interior Ministry has refused to discuss these requests, continuing to operate as though the law were still in effect.

The background: At the start of the second intifada the Knesset passed a law designed to prevent Palestinians living in Israel from marrying Palestinians from the territories. The Knesset understood at the time that it was a law whose constitutionality was in doubt, and which undermines the right to family life and equality, and therefore declared it a temporary “emergency provision.”

That was the excuse for the High Court: Look, this law isn’t permanent, we will discuss it on an annual basis depending on the situation. And of course, since 2003 the Knesset has approved it year after year. An “emergency provision” turned into a permanent law. And the High Court? It sighed, but didn’t rule on the matter. The justices said that the law raises difficult constitutional questions, but refrained from invalidating it. Why would they need this headache?

Six months ago the coalition was unable to garner a majority and the law was revoked. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett promised the Meretz party – which supported the racist law – that he would change the law. And what did Shaked do? She announced that she doesn’t care, and that she forbids family reunification even if she has no legal authority to do so. Instead of the State Prosecutor’s Office ordering her to return to the situation prior to the passing of the law – in other words, an individual examination of every request for reunification – Gil Limon, the deputy attorney general, declared that he supports the law.

Hold on a moment, my friend Limon. It is now 2022. The law that was passed 20 years ago originated in the days of the second intifada and the security situation that ensued from it. But that was over 17 years ago. How can you pretend, 17 years later, that the security situation in 2002 is still relevant today? The law that you are approving – wouldn’t it be preferable for it to suit the actual security situation?

Excuse me for the bad joke. The Citizenship and Entry Into Israel Law was always justified with security excuses, but it has no real connection with security. Justice Edmond Levy mocked this claim during my petitions and those of human rights organizations, and noted that Israel permits Palestinian workers to enter its jurisdiction.

And here precisely is the crux of the matter: The law does not protect Israel’s security, and was never designed to do so. It is designed to allay the demographic fears of Israeli Jews. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said so at the time, and half a year ago Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid repeated his words: “We don’t have to hide from the essence of the citizenship law, it is designed to ensure a Jewish majority in the country.”

The significance of Lapid’s words is that Israel is not a democracy. It has a large, native-born minority whose rights will always be inferior to those of the majority. This native-born minority won’t be able to realize its family-related rights or aspire to happiness. One of the advantages of this government is that Israeli Arabs are participating in it. If Shaked throws the Arab community to the dogs, Bennett, Lapid and their comrades should be aware that they won’t have another government after the election. Perhaps this utilitarian argument will succeed in overcoming the law’s built-in evil.

Source: The inherent evil of Israel’s Citizenship Law

Palestinians seek Israeli citizenship in Jerusalem

Of interest, particularly given the various issues at play:

A number of Palestinians in Jerusalem are seeking to obtain Israeli citizenship, in the hope of living in stability amid the prevalent difficult economic and living situation in Jerusalem. Obtaining Israeli citizenship has its advantages, such as health insurance, social security and freedom of movement.

Israel, for its part, could have covert reasons for naturalizing Jerusalemites, most notably breaking their bond with the West Bank.

According to a report by the Israeli Maariv channel on Sept. 16, 2017, the Israeli government decided, back in June 1967, to amend the process of granting citizenship to residents of Jerusalem, by granting them the legal status of permanent residents, within the scope of continuous efforts to reduce their numbers as much as possible.

The Israeli residency confers to its holder the right to live and work in Israel, as well as other economic and social rights. Thus, Jerusalemites get social security allowances dubbed “national insurance benefits,” and in return they pay taxes to the Israeli authorities. Jerusalemites also have the right to vote in Israeli municipal elections and to run as candidates for membership in the Municipal Council.

According to Article 5 of the Israeli Nationality Law, Palestinian residents of Jerusalem can apply for citizenship if several conditions are met, including having some knowledge of the Hebrew language, having resided in Israel for the last three years, swearing an oath of loyalty to the State of Israel and giving up the temporary Jordanian passport. Moreover, these residents should not have harbored any animosity toward Israel.

Khalil al-Tafkaji, director of the map department at the Arab Studies Association, told Al-Monitor, “Palestinians in Jerusalem are permanent residents with the right to reside inside the State of Israel. Therefore, Israel granted them a resident document after the occupation of Jerusalem in 1967. Until 1987, they were issued Jordanian documents of identity but not the Jordanian citizenship. During 1988, the Kingdom of Jordan decided to disengage from the West Bank, after the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat declared the State of Palestine.”

After the disengagement, Jordan severed its legal and administrative relations with the West Bank in 1988, and the Jordanian documents granted by the Jordanian government to the residents of the West Bank during that period were withdrawn.

Tafkaji said, “Options have become limited and difficult for the residents of the city of Jerusalem. If anyone manages to obtain the citizenship of a foreign country, he will be expelled after three months of obtaining it. If he manages to obtain Palestinian citizenship, his property will be confiscated by the Israeli authorities. Meanwhile, obtaining Israeli citizenship enables these Jerusalemites to keep their residency and stability and move and travel anywhere around the world, specifically to countries that allow the holders of the Israeli passport to enter without obtaining a prior entry visa.”

He noted, “Around 7,000 Jerusalemites obtained Israeli citizenship in 1993. Then, the granting of Israeli citizenship followed an upward trend with numbers reaching 21,000 naturalized Jerusalemites. However, recently, Israel began imposing restrictions on applications for citizenship. This falls within the scope of the Israeli government’s efforts to expel them from the city.”

Tafkaji said that the current restrictions imposed by Israel on residents of Jerusalem seeking to obtain Israeli citizenship aim to displace 200,000 Palestinians with residency status outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem toward areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA). “Israel is trying to get rid of them, after controlling 87% of the city’s surface area. Israel wants to use the Palestinian residents in Jerusalem as a pressure card in any future negotiations between Israel and the PA,” he added.

In February 2019, the Israeli Supreme Court, according to Haaretz newspaper, obliged the Ministry of Interior to expedite the examination of the applications of Jerusalemites, after a lawsuit filed by Israeli lawyers representing Jerusalemites who applied for naturalization.

Nasser al-Hadmi, head of the Jerusalem Committee for Resisting Displacement, told Al-Monitor that before former US President Donald Trump declared Jerusalem the capital of the State of Israel, there was a great Israeli desire to naturalize a large number of Jerusalem residents in order for the city to have a Jewish majority. Once the United States recognized Israel’s status, Israel reduced the number of naturalizations of Jerusalemites, and it is currently seeking to displace Jerusalemites and expel them rather than naturalize them. This is evidenced, for instance, by the evictions and displacements of a number of residents of the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhoods.

He said, “Around 80,000 naturalization applications have been submitted by the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to the Israeli authorities to obtain Israeli citizenship. But Israel so far approved only a limited number of them. Recently, after Jerusalem was recognized as Israel’s capital by the US administration and some other countries, Israel no longer seems so interested in naturalizing a large number of Jerusalemites, which it sees as a minority that does reflect a civilized image of the city.”

Hadmi noted that the Israeli authorities force Jerusalemites seeking Israeli citizenship to pledge full loyalty to it, and accept to become second- or third-class citizens. “The best example is the discrimination against Palestinians in the occupied territories in 1948, who are not treated on equal footing with Israeli residents. Israel believes that citizens of Jewish origin are better than other naturalized citizens from other countries,” he said.

He added, “The Israeli authorities have, for nearly 10 years now, put expiry dates on the identity cards they give to the residents of Jerusalem in order to be able to reside in the city and move across all Palestinian areas. When Jerusalemites try to renew their identity card, Israeli authorities would blackmail them, and refuse to easily renew the identity cards of those who threaten Israel’s security. This enables Israel to reduce the number of Jerusalemites granted the Israeli nationality.

Yael Ronen, professor of law at the Academic Center for Science and Law and researcher at the Minerva Center for Human Rights at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, noted in one of her articles posted on the Forum of Regional Thinking on Jan. 27, 2021, that developments may occur regarding the situation of tens of thousands of Palestinians living in Jerusalem represented in the possibility of obtaining Israeli citizenship. She noted that there are 330,000 Palestinians in the eastern part of Jerusalem and that the Population and Immigration Authority of the Israeli Ministry of Interior published a procedure to apply for citizenship under Article 4(a) of the Nationality Law.

She explained that since the occupation of Jerusalem in 1967, no Israeli steps have been taken to grant citizenship to residents, in light of the lack of interest in it and the Israeli objection to it. She noted that Palestinians are refraining from submitting requests for citizenship, as this could be interpreted as recognition by them of Israel’s sovereignty over the city.

Source: Palestinians seek Israeli citizenship in Jerusalem

Israeli children born abroad are automatically citizens, yet some are locked out

Of note (likely harder if not impossible for Israeli Arabs:

Thousands of Israeli children living overseas have been barred from entering Israel since March 2020 because they lack passports, and the issue has become even more pressing in light of Israel’s new Omicron-related border closures.

These children are legally Israeli citizens through parentage, despite having been born abroad, even if their parents never registered them with the state. This is because Israel’s 1952 Nationality Law automatically ascribes citizenship to a child born abroad to an Israeli parent. In a Kafkaesque turn, citizenship applies even if the state is unaware of these foreign-born citizens, and in a catch-22, citizenship can only be terminated following registration.

Prior to Israel’s first COVID-19 lockdown, these children were able to enter Israel as tourists on their foreign passports. This practice was abruptly ended when Israel closed its skies to non-citizens, and embassies abroad refused to grant entry permits to these Israeli children until their parents obtained Israeli passports for them, catching many off-guard.

Source: Israeli children born abroad are automatically citizens, yet some are locked out

A Rap Song Lays Bare Israel’s Jewish-Arab Fracture — and Goes Viral

An example of frank, open and unvarnished dialogue, leading to mutual respect and understnading:

Uriya Rosenman grew up on Israeli military bases and served as an officer in an elite unit of the army. His father was a combat pilot. His grandfather led the paratroopers who captured the Western Wall from Jordan in 1967.

Sameh Zakout, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, grew up in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Ramla. His family was driven out of its home in the 1948 war of Israeli independence, known to Palestinians as the “Nakba,” or catastrophe. Many of his relatives fled to Gaza.

Facing each other in a garage over a small plastic table, the two hurl ethnic insults and clichés at each other, tearing away the veneer of civility overlaying the seething resentments between the Jewish state and its Palestinian minority in a rap video that has gone viral in Israel.

The video, “Let’s Talk Straight,” which has garnered more than four million views on social media since May, couldn’t have landed at a more apt time, after the eruption two months ago of Jewish-Arab violence that turned many mixed Israeli cities like Lod and Ramla into Jewish-Arab battlegrounds.

By shouting each side’s prejudices at each other, at times seemingly on the verge of violence, Mr. Rosenman and Mr. Zakout have produced a work that dares listeners to move past stereotypes and discover their shared humanity.

Mr. Rosenman, 31, says he wants to change Israel from within by challenging its most basic reflexes. “I think that we are scared and are controlled by fear,” he says.

Mr. Zakout, 37, wants to change Israel by overcoming their forebears’ traumas. “I am not emphasizing my Palestinian identity,” he says. “I am a human being. Period. We are human beings first.”

At first viewing, the video seems like anything but a humanistic enterprise.

Mr. Rosenman, the first to speak, launches into a relentless three-minute anti-Palestinian tirade.

“Don’t cry racism. Stop the whining. You live in clans, fire rifles at weddings,” he taunts, his body tensed. “Abuse your animals, steal cars, beat your own women. All you care about is Allah and the Nakba and jihad and the honor that controls your urges.”

The camera circles them. A guitar screeches.

Mr. Zakout tugs at his beard, looks away with disdain. He’s heard it all before, including that oft-repeated line: “I am not a racist, my gardener is Arab.”

Then Mr. Zakout, his voice rising, delivers the other side of the most intractable of Middle Eastern stories.

“Enough,” he says. “I am a Palestinian and that’s it, so shut up. I don’t support terror, I’m against violence, but 70 years of occupation — of course there’ll be resistance. When you do a barbecue and celebrate independence, the Nakba is my grandmother’s reality. In 1948 you kicked out my family, the food was still warm on the table when you broke into our homes, occupying and then denying. You can’t speak Arabic, you know nothing of your neighbor, you don’t want us to live next to you, but we build your homes.”

Mr. Rosenman fidgets. His assertive confidence drains away as he’s whisked through the looking-glass of Arab-Jewish incomprehension.

The video pays homage to Joyner Lucas’s “I’m Not Racist,” a similar exploration of the stereotypes and blindness that lock in the Black-white fracture in the United States.

Mr. Rosenman, an educator whose job was to explain the conflict to young Israeli soldiers, had grown increasingly frustrated with “how things, with the justification of past traumas for the Jews, were built on rotten foundations.”

“Some things about my country are amazing and pure,” he said in an interview. “Some are very rotten. They are not discussed. We are motivated by trauma. We are a post-traumatic society. The Holocaust gives us some sort of back-way legitimacy to not plan for the future, not understand the full picture of the situation here, and to justify action we portray as defending ourselves.”

For example, Israel, he believes, should stop building settlements “on what could potentially be a Palestinian state” in the West Bank, because that state is needed for peace.

Looking for a way to hold a mirror to society and reveal its hypocrisies, Mr. Rosenman contacted a friend in the music industry, who suggested he meet Mr. Zakout, an actor and rapper.

They started talking in June last year, meeting for hours on a dozen occasions, building trust. They recorded the song in Hebrew and Arabic in March and the video in mid-April.

Their timing was impeccable. A few weeks later, the latest Gaza war broke out. Jews and Arabs clashed across Israel.

Their early conversations were difficult.

They argued over 1948. Mr. Zakout talked about his family in Gaza, how he missed them, how he wanted to get to know his relatives who lost their homes. He talked about the Jewish “arrogance that we feel as Arabs, the bigotry.”

“My Israeli friends told me I put them in front of the mirror,” he said.

Mr. Rosenman said he understood Mr. Zakout’s longing for a united family. That was natural. But why did Arab armies attack the Jews in 1948? “We were happy with what we got,” he said. “You know we had no other option.”

The reaction to the video has been overwhelming, as if it bared something hidden in Israel. Invitations have poured in — to appear at conferences, to participate in documentaries, to host concerts, to record podcasts.

“I’ve been waiting for someone to make this video for a long time,” said one commenter, Arik Carmi. “How can we fight each other when we are more like brothers than we will admit to ourselves? Change won’t come before we let go of the hate.”

The two men, now friends, are at work on a second project, which will examine how self-criticism in a Jewish and Arab society might bring change. It will ask the question: How can you do better, rather than blaming the government?

Mr. Zakout recently met Mr. Rosenman’s grandfather, Yoram Zamosh, who planted the Israeli flag at the Western Wall after Israeli paratroopers stormed into the Old City in Jerusalem during the 1967 war. Most of Mr. Zamosh’s family from Berlin was murdered by the Nazis at the Chelmno extermination camp.

“He is a unique and special guy,” Mr. Zakout said of Mr. Zamosh. “He reminds me a little of my grandfather, Abdallah Zakout, his energy, his vibes. When we spoke about his history and pain, I understood his fear, and at the same time he understood my side.”

The video aims to bring viewers to that same kind of understanding.

“That’s the beginning,” Mr. Zakout said. “We are not going to solve this in a week. But at least it is something, the first step in a long journey.”

Mr. Rosenman added: “What we do is meant to scream out loud that we are not scared anymore. We are letting go of our parents’ traumas and building a better future for everyone together.”

The last words in the video, from Mr. Zakout, are: “We both have no other country, and this is where the change begins.”

They turn to the table in front of them, and silently share a meal of pita and hummus.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/21/world/middleeast/israel-palestinian-rap-video.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage&section=World%20News

Palestinians start applying for citizenship under family unification laws

Of note. Creating ‘facts on the ground’ while the law has not been renewed:
Palestinians who are married to Israeli citizens but who have not been able to obtain Israeli citizenship or residency due to the Citizenship Law which the government failed to renew this week have begun filing requests for such standing with the Interior Ministry.
NGOs, including the Hamoked civil rights group, have begun filing requests for citizenship and residency on behalf of their clients, and are encouraging others to do so as well.
There are some 9,200 Palestinians married to Israeli Arab citizens who have the most basic “stay permits” allowing them to reside in the country but which have to be renewed every one or two years, and another 3,500 who due to special circumstances were able to obtain temporary residency visas.
They will all now be able to apply for citizenship, although since the Arab population of east Jerusalem generally shuns citizenship in favor of residency those with stay permits in the city will likely request residency visas.
Until now, the 2003 Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law prevented Palestinians who marry Israeli Arab citizens from obtaining citizenship through naturalization, as is available to other foreign national spouses of Israelis.
The law was passed on security grounds and later extended to Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis and Iranians who marry Israelis.
But the law has been criticized by human rights groups as discriminatory and on humanitarian grounds, and was opposed by coalition partners Ra’am and Meretz.
Although compromises were found, two Ra’am MKs abstained, while Yamina rebel MK Amichai Shikli voted against, and the law was toppled.
This means that those Palestinians married to Israeli citizens can now start the application process with the Interior Ministry for citizenship or residency like any other foreign national.
They will be able to apply first for a B1 visa, then an A5 temporary residency visa, and ultimately for citizenship if they do not live in east Jerusalem.
Jessica Montell, Executive Director of the Israeli human rights organization HaMoked, said that her organization represents approximately 400 families and that it has begun filing visa applications for them to the Interior Ministry.
In some families not just the spouse needs to obtain residency, the children do as well, she said.
Asked whether the ministry might hold up the processing of applications while the government ponders new steps, Montell insisted that the “Ministry doesn’t have right to drag its feet,” and that it had to “respect people’s rights.”
She said the standard response time for a request to a government authority is 45 days, and that if her clients did not receive responses in such time they would take the issue to court.
“The ministry cannot ignore these requests for a year in the hope a new law is passed,” said Montell.
“Israelis are just as safe as they were before the law expired. The authorities still have all the tools necessary to prevent dangerous people from entering the country, but without this law we will be a little bit more free and equal,” she said.
“Without this law, all Israeli citizens and residents have an equal right to fall in love and build a family, and that’s good news for these families and for everyone who cares about basic human rights.”
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked has said however that she intends to bring the law back to the Knesset for a vote in the coming weeks in a fresh attempt to get it approved, meaning that the gateway to citizenship for such people may soon be closed.
Shaked has emphasized the security basis of the law, stating this week that the majority of terror attacks carried out by Arab Israeli citizens have been committed either by individuals who obtained some form of status in Israel through family reunification under the Citizenship Law, or by their offspring.
The Shin Bet said in 2018 that since 2001 some 155 individuals involved in terror activities obtained entry to Israel under family reunification laws.
But the law has also been justified to preserve Israel’s Jewish majority, something emphasized this week by Shaked, as well as  more centrist figures like Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and, a few weeks ago, Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Source: Palestinians start applying for citizenship under family unification laws

Israel blocks law that keeps out Palestinian spouses

Of note, both the discriminatory substance as well as the identity politics:

Israel’s parliament early on Tuesday failed to renew a law that bars Arab citizens from extending citizenship or residency rights to spouses from the occupied West Bank and Gaza, in a tight vote that raised doubts about the viability of the country’s new coalition government.

The 59-59 vote, which came after an all-night session of the Knesset, marked a major setback for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

The new Israeli leader, who had hoped to find a compromise between his hard-line Yamina party and the dovish factions in his disparate coalition, instead suffered a stinging defeat in a vote he reportedly described as a referendum on the new government. The vote means the law is now set to expire at midnight Tuesday.

The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law was enacted as a temporary measure in 2003, at the height of the second intifada, or uprising, when Palestinians launched scores of deadly attacks inside Israel. Proponents said Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza were susceptible to recruitment by armed groups and that security vetting alone was insufficient.

Under it, Arab citizens, who comprise a fifth of Israel’s population, have had few if any avenues for bringing spouses from the West Bank and Gaza into Israel. Critics, including many left-wing and Arab lawmakers, say it’s a racist measure aimed at restricting the growth of Israel’s Arab minority, while supporters say it’s needed for security purposes and to preserve Israel’s Jewish character.

The law has been renewed annually and appeared to have the support of a large majority in parliament, which is dominated by hard-line nationalist parties. But former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party and his allies decided to oppose it to embarrass Bennett and harm his coalition, which includes a collection of eight parties across the political spectrum, including a small Islamist Arab party.

Interior Minister Minister Ayelet Shaked, a member of Bennett’s Yamina party, said the opposition move to block the law’s renewal would lead to thousands more applications for citizenship. She accused Netanyahu and his allies of choosing “petty and ugly politics, and let the country burn.”

Amichai Chikli, a renegade member of Yamina who voted with the opposition, said the outcome was a sign of deeper issues.

“Israel needs a functioning Zionist government, and not a mismatched patchwork that is reliant on” the votes of Arab lawmakers, said Chikli. He was the only member of his party to oppose the new coalition-led government last month.

Netanyahu, ousted by the new coalition after 12 years as prime minister, made clear his political goals.

“With all due respect for this law, the importance of toppling the government is greater,” Netanyahu said Monday.

Bennett reportedly proposed a compromise with liberal members of the coalition that would have extended the law by six months while offering residency rights to some 1,600 Arab families, a fraction of those affected. But the measure was defeated, in part because two Arab members of the coalition abstained. The vote exposed the deep divisions and the fragility of the new government.

The decision, however, gave some hope to Arab families that have been affected by the law. The law has created an array of difficulties for thousands of Palestinian families that span the war-drawn and largely invisible frontiers separating Israel from east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, territories it seized in the 1967 war that the Palestinians want for a future state.

“You want your security, it’s no problem, you can check each case by itself,” said Taiseer Khatib, an Arab citizen of Israel whose wife of more than 15 years, from the West Bank city of Jenin, must regularly apply for permits to live with him and their three children in Israel.

“There’s no need for this collective punishment just because you are Palestinian,” he said during a protest outside the Knesset on Monday ahead of the vote.

The law has been continually renewed even after the uprising wound down in 2005 and the number of attacks plummeted. Today, Israel allows more than 100,000 Palestinian workers from the West Bank to enter on a regular basis.

Male spouses over the age of 35 and female spouses over the age of 25, as well as some humanitarian cases, can apply for the equivalent of a tourist permit, which must be regularly renewed. The holders of such permits are ineligible for driver’s licenses, public health insurance and most forms of employment. Palestinian spouses from Gaza have been completely banned since the militant Hamas group seized power there in 2007.

The law does not apply to the nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers who live in the West Bank, who have full Israeli citizenship. Under Israel’s Law of Return, Jews who come to Israel from anywhere in the world are eligible for citizenship.

Israel’s Arab minority has close familial ties to Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and largely identifies with their cause. Arab citizens view the law as one of several forms of discrimination they face in a country that legally defines itself as a Jewish nation-state.

Palestinians who are unable to get permits but try to live with their spouses inside Israel are at risk of deportation. Couples that move to the West Bank live under Israeli military occupation.

The citizenship law also applies to Jewish Israelis who marry Palestinians from the territories, but such unions are extremely rare.

Source: Israel blocks law that keeps out Palestinian spouses

Poland, Israel in diplomatic spat over Poland’s property law

Ongoing Polish government denial:

Poland and Israel have summoned each other’s diplomats in a growing dispute over Poland’s planned changes to property restitution rules that Israel and Jewish organizations say would prevent Jewish claims for compensation or property seized during the Holocaust and communist times.

On Monday, Israeli charge d ’affaires ​Tal Ben-Ari Yaalon met with Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski, who insisted the new regulations do not bar any property claims, which should be made through courts. Poland also says it mustn’t be made responsible for property seizures by Nazi Germany during its World War II occupation of Poland.

“These regulations are not directed against anyone,” Jablonski said, adding that there is a lot of misunderstanding of their aim as they give the law a steady framework.

Jablonski later said Ben-Ari Yaalon repeated the embassy’s statement from last week, which called the new regulations “immoral” and said they “will have a serious impact” on bilateral relations.

Poland’s ambassador to Israel, Marek Magierowski, was at the Israeli Foreign Ministry on Sunday, explaining the new regulations made to align with a 2015 ruling by the top constitutional court.

Poland’s parliament is processing the changes to prevent ownership and other administrative decisions from being declared void after 30 years. It says this is a response to fraud and irregularities that have emerged in the restitution process. The changes still require approval from the Senate and the president.

The World Jewish Restitution Organization said it was “deeply disappointed” by Poland’s response to the concerns.

“The house or shop or factory in a town in Poland affected by this legislation was not taken by Germany, it was taken by Poland. It sits today in Poland and its use has benefited Poland for over 70 years. It is time to recognize this fact and for Poland to do justice for those who suffered so much,” said the group’s chief, Gideon Taylor.

Last week, the U.S. State Department weighed in, with spokesperson Ned Price tweeting that the changes were a “step in the wrong direction” and urged Poland “not to move this legislation forward.”

Before World War II, Poland was home to Europe’s largest Jewish community of some 3.5 million people. Most were killed in the Holocaust under Nazi Germany’s occupation and their property was confiscated. Poland’s post-war communist authorities seized those properties, along with the property of non-Jewish owners in Warsaw and other cities. The end of communism in 1989 opened the door to restitution claims, most of which would be coming from Poles.

The still unresolved matter has been a constant source of bitterness and political tension between Poland and Israel.

In 2001, a draft law foreseeing compensation for seized private property was approved in parliament but vetoed by President Aleksander Kwasniewski. He claimed it violated social equality principles and would hurt Poland’s economic development, implying that compensation claims would result in large payouts. He also said individual claims should be made through the courts.

Poland is the only European country that has not offered any compensation for private property seized by the state in its recent history. Only the remaining communal Jewish property, like some synagogues, prayer houses and cemeteries, mostly in disrepair, have been returned where possible or compensated for.

Source: Poland, Israel in diplomatic spat over Poland’s property law

Galon: There’s something other than security behind Israel’s citizenship law

Of note:

During the next two weeks, the Knesset is expected to vote on the Citizenship and Entry Into Israel Law (Temporary Provision), which has been renewed . This law violates the basic rights of Arab citizens of Israel to family life and equality, and its purpose – as attorney Dafna Holz-Lechner, who represented Meretz and me in petitions to the High Court of Justice has argued – is to prevent them from living in Israel with their relatives from the territories. But this time there is a political problem: Likud and the parties of its cancerous bloc have announced that they will not vote in favor of the law, and the United Arab List has also said it will oppose it.

One thing is already clear: Despite the argument of the right – which the center, in its cowardice, has adopted over the years – this law does not prevent any “security risks.” Firstly, the Shin Bet security service has already stated that since 2018 no one eligible for family reunification has been involved in terrorism. Second, Justice Edmond Levy, who during a 2006 High Court hearing supported the law solely as an interim measure, opposed it by 2012, and ridiculed the security argument, since, after all, Israel allows Palestinian workers to enter its territory every day. Third, if there were a security risk, Likud would not oppose the law; it’s inconceivable that Likud would seek to endanger state security just to overthrow a government not headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, right?

The law’s purpose has always been to serve as a means of demographic control. The law proves that the word “citizenship” is a meaningless one in Israel, since no one would have dared oppose a law allowing Jewish Israelis to live with settlers from the West Bank, even though there have been settlers involved in terrorism. We still haven’t forgotten that in 2005 they tried to set alight a gas storage facility in Rehovot to foil the disengagement, and Betzalel Smotrich was once arrested on suspicion of attempting a major attack inside Israel. From time to time, settlers attack IDF soldiers, and as for their behavior toward Palestinians – there is no Shabbat without a pogrom – one needn’t elaborate.

If we want Israeli citizenship to have any real meaning and not to be a cover for an apartheid regime (and Human Rights Watch cited this law as one of the reasons it views Israel as such), Arab citizens need to know that they are equal. In many respects, the family reunification provision served as a prelude to the which officially turned Arabs into second-class citizens.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked says that opposition to the law by any coalition member is a “violation of the status quo,” and therefore goes against the government’s guidelines. This isn’t true. “Status quo” is not a synonym for “how it was, is how it will always be.” A law that is renewed every year, under the guise of a temporary order, by its nature involves a specific and temporary interest – an exception to the status quo, which is a permanent thing. We do not vote on the status quo anew every year, and this temporary provision – the reason why the law stood the test of the High Court – contradicts basic principles, and is meant to be anything but permanent.

All of us, Jews and Arabs, are residents and citizens of this tortured land. The time has come for us to stop threatening Arab citizens with a second and separation from their families. They are citizens by right and not by grace. As Natan Alterman wrote about expressing such “grace”: “It is not appropriate even for a personal reason.” This abominable law, which stains the Israeli legal code, must be eliminated. Then one could say that this government has effected some kind of change.

Source: There’s something other than security behind Israel’s citizenship law

Vaccines For Data: Israel’s Pfizer Deal Drives Quick Rollout — And Privacy Worries

A key factor behind Israel’s success in vaccination:

How has tiny Israel beat out bigger countries on COVID-19 vaccinations, securing a steady stream of vials and inoculating a larger share of its citizenry than any other nation?

Israel paid a premium, locked in an early supply of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines and struck a unique deal: vaccines for data.

The nation of some 9 million promised Pfizer a swift vaccine rollout, along with data from Israel’s centralized trove of medical statistics to study “whether herd immunity is achieved after reaching a certain percentage of vaccination coverage in Israel,” according to their agreement.

“We said to Pfizer … that the moment they give us the vaccine, we’ll be able to vaccinate at the speed they’ve never heard of,” Israel’s health minister Yuli Edelstein tells NPR.

Israel’s small size and technologically advanced public health system offer an attractive model for Pfizer to demonstrate the impact of the vaccine on an entire population. Pfizer has not signed a similar agreement with any other country, company spokesperson Jerica Pitts says.

The vaccines-for-data trade-off has sparked impassioned debate in Israel among data privacy experts, biotech researchers and the country’s own medical ethics board, weighing the potential benefits of mining the population for vaccine insights against the potential abuse of millions of personal medical records.

“We need to understand that [Israel’s agreement with Pfizer] is going to be one of the, I would say, widest medical experiments on humans at the 21st century,” says the Israel Democracy Institute’s Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, a data privacy advocate and a leading voice questioning the Pfizer data deal.

Some Israeli commentators have accused Shwartz Altshuler of seeking to spoil a successful national campaign that the government has branded with the hashtag “VacciNation.” She and many other Israeli experts tend to concur that quick access to the vaccine is Israel’s most important priority.

Israel is already reporting promising initial results of the vaccination campaign. The Health Ministry said Thursday that out of a group of 715,425 Israelis fully vaccinated, only 317 — 0.04% — got infected with the virus at least one week after their second shot, and 16 were hospitalized with serious symptoms.

Israeli HMOs have reported a decrease in infection rates among those vaccinated with one shot of the Pfizer vaccine, and a drop in the country’s serious COVID-19 infections for older age categories a couple of weeks after Israel started its national vaccination drive.

“I think that it’s really very special that Israel’s been recognized by Pfizer as a country that the whole world can learn from,” says Diane Levin-Zamir, director of health education at Israel’s largest HMO, Clalit Health Services. “There’s good research coming out and we’re being very transparent about the data.”

Vaccines and politics

Most Israelis are celebrating their record-setting vaccination drive. “To be the first place in the world, it’s a good feeling,” says Yoni Boigenman, an Israeli getting a first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at Jerusalem’s main sports stadium, which has been converted into a hive of needles and nurses 14 hours every day.

Close to a third of the population has received at least one shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and about 17% received both shots, far beyond any other country. Israel aims to be the first to vaccinate most of its citizenry against COVID-19 before elections are held March 23.

The vaccine drive is central to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection campaign. The first Israeli to receive a shot, Netanyahu mounted his syringe in a glass box, the needle angled upward like a rocket ship, with a plaque riffing off the words of U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong: “One small shot for a man, a giant step for everyone’s health.”

Israel has waved away human rights groups’ assertions that the country is obliged to provide vaccines to Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip; Israel says the Palestinian Authority holds that responsibility.

Still, Israel has decided to send 5,000 COVID-19 vaccines to Palestinian medical workers in the West Bank, with an initial shipment this week, Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s office tells NPR. Palestinian officials signed late deals with vaccine manufacturers and still await shipments to begin vaccinating the public.

Some Israeli medical experts warn that widespread immunity cannot be achieved so long as millions of Palestinians are not vaccinated. Palestinian officials say they do not expect to vaccinate the majority of their population until at least the end of the year.

“It’s a gold mine”

Nearly every Israeli citizen and resident belongs to one of four public HMOs, a health care system rooted in the national trade union of Israel’s early years. Every Israeli’s full medical history – from physician visits to hospitalizations – is accessible to any health provider at the click of a mouse, a repository of digital records going back 30 years.

“It’s a gold mine,” says Ziv Ofek, who helped launch Israel’s public health database, which he asserts is unparalleled by any other country.

Unrelated to the Pfizer study in Israel, Ofek’s medical data company, MDClone, is helping assemble a separate Israeli coronavirus patient database, with privacy protections. Israeli researchers are already tapping it for insights, such as findings that suggest a higher likelihood of dying from COVID-19 among those with fatty liver disease.

The data offers potential for vaccine research, too.

“Is there any progression of other diseases? … Does it impact your hypertension?” Ofek says. “All you need to do is just to be able to load the fact that you’ve been vaccinated, and then you can run new studies.”

Privacy concerns

The Israeli Health Ministry initially kept the terms of the Pfizer agreement confidential, but on Jan. 17 published part of the English-language contract, dated Jan. 6, to reassure the public about data use. Instead, the fine print has raised further questions.

Israel’s medical data experts want to know exactly what Israel is giving Pfizer, and whether the data being studied amounts to a clinical trial without the express consent of the millions of Israelis rushing to get vaccinated.

In interviews, Israeli officials insist they are only giving Pfizer anonymous statistics already provided to the public, such as the number of weekly cases and hospitalizations.

Pfizer said in a statement that it “will not receive any identifiable individual health information. The [Israeli Ministry of Health] will only share aggregated epidemiological data.”

But the contract says Israel will give Pfizer unspecified “subgroup analyses and vaccine effectiveness analyses, as agreed by the Parties,” leaving open the possibility that more personalized categories of data could be delivered.

“Can you have a real research based on … statistical numbers? This is not research,” Ofek says. Israeli health officials “claim they don’t give patient-level data, only statistics. There’s a big question whether it’s the whole truth, part of the truth or no truth at all.”

Privacy and medical data experts say buckets of data scrubbed of patients’ personal details can still be traced back to identify people if the sample is small enough, revealing sensitive medical details such as who is HIV-positive. If Israel transfers such private data to Pfizer, there are concerns it could get hacked and disseminated by third parties.

“Your insurance company will know all your medical history. Your employer will know it. The political campaigner who would like to convince you to vote for someone would know everything about your medical history, not to say about people who would like to marry your children,” warns Shwartz Altshuler, describing what she calls a small concern.

The contract also allows Pfizer or Israel to “provide input, make factual corrections” and delay publication of their studies of the vaccine’s effectiveness, which some Israeli medical data and privacy experts say could allow either party – each with vested commercial and political interests in the vaccine’s success – to hide or delay publication of failures. A Pfizer spokesperson did not respond to NPR’s query on this matter.

The head of Israel’s medical ethics review board, Dr. Eitan Friedman, says the review board has requested further clarification on the agreement. The government has not officially responded to the board’s request to review the agreement, he says.

If Pfizer and Israel are studying response to the vaccine by subgroups of Israelis’ demographic profiles and medical conditions, it should qualify as a clinical study requiring his board’s approval, says Friedman.

“There needs to be total transparency. No one party can override the real data. We need to know the truth,” he says.

The data study and fast vaccine rollout have fed some suspicions. Skepticism among the vaccine is prevalent among Palestinian citizens and residents of Israel.

“I heard so many rumors about this. Some say … they want to see the experience on the people here, if it’s a good vaccine or not. That’s why I’m a little confused about it,” says Nuha Sharif, a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem who nevertheless came to the Jerusalem sports arena to get her shot.

She has Israeli health insurance and received the vaccination for free, unlike Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who are still waiting for vaccine manufacturers to deliver vials to the Palestinian territories.

Some Israelis getting shots at the arena say they are not worried about their data.

“If it can help the world to get out of it, I don’t care,” Noam Ben Dror says. “I don’t think it’s a big secret, my personal data.”

Source: Vaccines For Data: Israel’s Pfizer Deal Drives Quick Rollout — And Privacy Worries