Former Balad MK Azmi Bishara.
(photo credit: TWITTER)
Arab legislators and rights groups are concerned that Interior Minister Arye Deri’s expressed desire to strip the citizenship of fugitive former MK Azmi Bishara will lead to further revocations of the citizenship of Israeli Arabs.
They also point with concern to a Haifa District Court ruling last week that stripped the citizenship of Alaa Ziad, a resident of Umm el-Fahm, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for four attempted murders after carrying out a car ramming and stabbing attack in October 2015.
The ruling marked the first time an Israeli court stripped anyone of citizenship, based on a 2008 amendment to the citizenship law that specifies “breach of loyalty,” which includes the carrying out of a terror attack, as cause for cancellation of citizenship. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Arab legal rights group Adalah are appealing the case to the Supreme Court.
Deri was recently quoted by Channel 2 as saying that he hoped stripping Bishara’s citizenship would help deter future spies. He also welcomed the Ziad verdict, saying he was hoping for a similar ruling in the case of Muhammad Mafarje, a Taybeh resident who carried out a 2012 attack in Tel Aviv.
Bishara fled the country in 2007 while being investigated for allegedly providing information to Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War. He moved to Qatar and has said he will not return to Israel because he would not receive a fair trial here. In a letter to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit last month, Deri asked for a legal opinion on whether or not he had the authority to revoke Bishara’s citizenship.
MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List) said the move against Bishara “is a kind of introduction to others. They are starting with Azmi Bishara, but you also saw the decision of taking the citizenship of those involved in terrorist attacks. Maybe later on it will be for expressing a position and idea that the Israeli establishment will call threatening to the security of the state. They might expand it to a situation in which even freedom of expression can be a threat in their opinion."
“We are beginning a new era in which the right wing has passed the line of a right wing and moved into being a threatening power, not only against democracy in its liberal meaning but also against essential citizen rights,” she said.
Meanwhile, Likud MK Anat Berko said stripping Bishara of his citizenship was long overdue and called for “more massive use” of cancellation of citizenship, adding that there are tens of cases in which it should be carried out.
“Whoever acts against the state that is good to them has no reason to remain an Israeli citizen,” she said. “You have to cancel the citizenship of those who join up with the enemies of Israel. There is no reason to give up on this, just nullify it.”
Israeli Arabs who travel abroad to join ISIS should lose their citizenship not only as a deterrent but also because they pose “a threat to public safety,” she added.
Regarding Bishara, she said that “there is no reason not to cancel his citizenship. This is a person who helped terror organizations, lives in Qatar and is unwilling to be tried and who continues with his political subversion from Qatar."
“He won’t come back here, but canceling his citizenship has declarative meaning. It’s a deterrent statement to those who would follow in his footsteps,” she said.
Berko said it is fitting that only Arabs and not Jews have their citizenship stripped because “Jewish Israelis don’t need to be deterred. All of them came out against the despicable murder of [16-year-old Muhammad] Abu Khdeir [in 2014 by Jewish zealots]. Attacks and murder in most cases are done by Arabs and if they are done by Jews they are rejected.”
Adalah attorney Sawsan Zaher said that the Supreme Court rejected a 1996 petition to have the citizenship of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, revoked on the grounds that he had already been punished in the criminal proceedings.
The same should hold true for Ziad, she said.
Of Bishara possibly losing his citizenship, she added: “It’s clear this is a revenge issue. He hasn’t been convicted or indicted. There is only suspicion. It’s clear it’s only to gain political profit in a climate where stripping Palestinian citizens of their rights has heroic connotations."
“We are very concerned about a dangerous slippery slope that we have seen of late,” said Zaher, adding that there are four or five other cases where the attorney-general has already provided consent to requests by Deri to revoke citizenship. “We won’t be surprised if the number rises.”
Deri’s spokesman could not be reached for comment at press time.