Israeli Supreme Court Upholds Racist Family Unification Law
By Am Johal
In a razor thin 6-5 vote, the Israeli Supreme Court this week upheld the revised Family Unification Law which denies the
right of Palestinians to join their Israeli Arab families in Israel. The revised law made provisions for Palestinian
males over 35 and women over 25 to be able to apply for unification. It will mean that many families will be left
separated and without access to state benefits.
In 2004 when I worked on international advocacy in Israel with the Mossawa Center, the Advocacy Center for Arab citizens
of Israel, the British Parliament had 84 members sign a petition expressing human rights concerns with the legislation.
Even the US State Department’s Human Rights Report included concerns about the legislation. The United Nations, Human
Rights Watch and Amnesty International have also raised concerns. We gave many briefings to embassies and took
affidavits from couples affected by the law.
The so-called demographic threat which has been instrumentalized as a political wedge by the Israeli right wing
establishment like Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, have been given legitimacy for their offensive public views
by the Supreme Court decision. They will no doubt continue to support the ethnic transfer of Israeli Arabs and
Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
The Supreme Court decision flys in the face of international law and within the context of the various peace processes
shows that the European Union, the United States and the UN will simply allow this brazen public policy positioning to
The argument that security concerns can form the basis for legitimately discriminating on ethnic grounds is profoundly
flawed. It highlights one of the many issues in trying to build a state based on ethnicity. Democratic forms can even be
instrumentalized for political purposes. These deformations of language and political process serve as the basis for
unequal treatment. Institutionalizing a second-class system within the state itself without fear of repercussions on the
international stage is a luxury that Israel could only afford with the support of the European Union and the United
Not only is the Separation Wall there as a physical barrier, but Israeli law itself reinforces further discrimination.
The normalization of such inequality over the function of time is driven as much by the demographic debate within
Israel, which is legitimized by the mainstream Israeli press, as much as it is by the security argument. On that basis
alone, Israel seems perfectly comfortable with the idea that as long as public policy can be argued on the basis of
security before the highest court of the land, international law is merely a guideline rather than something legitimate
that needs to followed as a basis of domestic law. Herein lies the fundamental paradox – without any effective
international pressure to the contrary, how can Israeli policy actually be shifted?