By Kan-Tor & Acco, Partners |

On September 2nd 2023, members of the coalition  revealed plans to reintroduce the Basic Law: Immigration legislation.

Citing recent events from the past Saturday, where Hundreds of Eritrean infiltrators rioted against a festival that had been organized in south Tel Aviv by the Eritrean embassy, the Knesset Constitution, Law, and Judgement Committee Chairman MK Simcha Rothman declare that the reason for the proposed law is:

“to lay down guidelines concerning entry to Israel, immigration processes, attainment of status within the country, and citizenship provisions. Additionally, the law aims to uphold an immigration policy that not only safeguards the unique right of the Jewish people to self-determination within the State of Israel but also fortifies the sovereignty and security of the nation.”

The highlights of MK Rothman’s proposed legislation include

  1. Annual Quota System: With Knesset’s approval, the government will set an annual cap on the number of individuals gaining status in Israel. The term “status” here denotes citizenship, visa, or any permit allowing a non-Israeli citizen or non-resident to stay in Israel beyond a year.
  2. Penalty for Overstay: Any individual who has either entered or resided in Israel unlawfully for a period surpassing three months will not be eligible for status in the country.
  3. Restriction on Legal Recourse: Non-citizens or non-residents of Israel cannot appeal to the courts concerning their entry into the country. Moreover, such relief will only be granted by the court if it ascertains the individual’s rightful claim to status under Israeli law.
  4. Deportation of Illegal Residents: The law mandates the expulsion of any person who either enters or remains in Israel in contravention of the stated law.

The proposal is expected to spark significant debate when the Knesset winter session commences. While the Basic Law: Immigration might be seen by its proponents as a necessary step to safeguard the unique identity and security of Israel, it will inevitably face scrutiny and debate, both domestically and internationally, concerning its implications for democratic values and human rights.

An Analysis by KTA Partners

Analyzing the suggested law, the following is a perspective on how this law could change the immigration landscape of Israel:

  1. Assertive Nationalism Over Liberal Democracy: Israel is often caught in a delicate balancing act between its identity as a Jewish state and its aspirations as a democratic state that upholds universal human rights. The proposed law tilts the scale toward a more assertive form of nationalism. By prioritizing the “unique right to self-determination of the Jewish people,” the legislation might be seen as emphasizing the Jewish character of Israel over its democratic character. This could have broader implications for Israel’s image internationally, as the state might be perceived as prioritizing one particular ethnic-religious group over others.\
  2. Strengthened Executive Control: The provision allowing the government to determine a maximum annual quota for people receiving status, with Knesset approval, centralizes decision-making power. This could streamline the immigration process and make it more responsive to changing political climates. However, it also risks making the policy susceptible to potential populist or short-term political considerations.
  3. Limiting Judicial Oversight: One of the most significant changes is the restriction placed on non-citizens or non-residents in appealing to the courts concerning their entry into Israel. This move limits the ability of the judiciary to serve as a check on potential executive overreach in immigration matters. In the past, the Supreme Court has played a pivotal role in moderating policies it deemed as too extreme. This law could change that balance of power.
  4. Deterrent to Illegal Immigration: With stringent measures like the immediate removal of illegal entrants or overstayers and denying status to those who have unlawfully stayed for over three months, the law sends a clear message: Israel intends to be strict about its immigration controls. This could act as a significant deterrent to potential illegal immigration or overstay.
  5. Human Rights Concerns: Given the restrictive nature of several provisions, human rights organizations and advocates may express concerns about the potential for rights abuses. Particularly, the part denying non-citizens or non-residents the ability to appeal to courts could be seen as denying a fundamental right to legal recourse.

Immigration Emerges as a Key Political Issue in Israel

The proposal itself sends an unequivocal message about compliance with immigration laws. As a result, KTA specialists expect that the immigration is set to become a focal point in Israeli politics in the upcoming period. This adds to an already dynamic political landscape where significant issues, ranging from the distribution of powers among government branches to checks and balances, are stirring debates and demonstrations. These discussions not only touch on the very democratic fabric of Israel but also delve into the roles and interplay between the judiciary, the Knesset (Parliament), and the executive branch.

KTA Partners (Israeli Department): Tsvi Kan-Tor, Amit Acco, Yoav Noy, Shai Nimrodi and Itzik Laniado