In a first test of new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s governing coalition, the Knesset on Tuesday voted against renewing a controversial law that prevented Arab Israeli citizens from extending residency or citizenship rights to their Palestinian spouses.
The proposal for a one-year extension failed in a 59-59 vote in the Knesset. Israeli conservatives like Bennett said the law was needed for national security purposes, but the measure had long been opposed by Israeli liberals who viewed the law as overly suppressive.
Bennett said the vote was a test of whether the coalition trusted his government.
“Whoever votes in favor [of the legislation] is expressing confidence in the government,” Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy said on Bennett’s behalf, according to the Times of Israel. “Whoever votes against, is expressing no confidence in the government.”
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his opposition Likud Party celebrated the vote, despite his support for the extension.
“With all due respect for this law, the importance of toppling the government is greater,” Netanyahu said, according to The Guardian. “This isn’t just a law. It’s a law that exposes the fault-line in this government, whose purpose is to advance an anti-Zionist agenda.”
Bennett and his Yamina Party, in turn, accused Netanyahu’s Likud Party of sabotaging his deal with moderates.
As a result of the Knesset vote, as many as 15,000 Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank could have residency or citizenship rights in Israel through their spouses when the law ends at midnight Tuesday.
“The opposition did not succeed in toppling the government but together caused direct harm to the security of Israel and abandoned its borders,” the Yamina Party said, according to The Jerusalem Post. “This is how petty politics at the expense of Israeli citizens look.”
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