Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
An Israel Beiteinu bill derided by critics as unfairly targeting Israeli Arabs passed into law late Monday night, with supporters welcoming it as a boost to internal deterrence against would-be terrorists and traitors.
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The Citizenship Law enables courts to revoke citizenship – in addition to issuing prison sentences – against people who are convicted of treason, serious treason, aiding the enemy in a time of war or having committed an act of terror against the state.
Israel Beiteinu MKs David Rotem and Robert Ilatov cosponsored the bill, which easily passed the plenum by a vote of 37-11.
“Any normal state would have legislated this bill years ago,” said Rotem shortly after the bill passed. “I thank all of the legislators, who have sent a message tonight that citizenship and loyalty go hand in hand. There is no citizenship without loyalty.”
The bill originated in Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman’s campaign promise of “no loyalty, no citizenship.”
Initially, Israel Beiteinu pushed for legislation requiring a loyalty oath to a “Jewish and democratic” state, but the current law was the compromise that the faction managed to secure from the coalition.
“Another promise made by Israel Beiteinu to its voters has been fulfilled,” responded Lieberman minutes after the vote. “Without loyalty, there can be no citizenship. Any person who harms the country cannot enjoy the benefits of citizenship and its fruit. The law will help confront the phenomenon by which there are those who take advantage of our democracy in order to undermine it, and by which those who are called citizens collaborate with the enemy.”
In a gibe at Arab MKs who presented outspoken and impassioned opposition to the bill, Lieberman added that “unfortunately, we are witness to these incidents even among members of the Knesset.”
Opponents of the bill, including MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), cited the fact that the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) opposed the legislation.
The Shin Bet initially supported the bill, but changed its opinion and announced that it believed the current laws offered sufficient recourse against such offenders. The current law allows for canceling citizenship for breach of trust, and there have been cases in which citizenship has been revoked.
During the bill’s final committee hearings, a Shin Bet attorney said that there were enough provisions in the existing law to strip offenders’ citizenship as needed. He added that the bill itself was problematic and that Israeli Arabs indeed believed that the law was aimed at them.
“An absurd situation has been created in which the Shin Bet has to rein in the Knesset,” complained Horowitz. “In light of the Shin Bet’s position, it is impossible to hide behind the security excuse for this law.
Why do you support a bill that the Shin Bet said is deleterious to law and security?” Rotem, however, complained that according to recent reports, the Shin Bet’s change of heart had come after former Meretz MK Haim Oron met with outgoing Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin – a fact that was not mentioned during committee hearings on the bill.
“The real plan behind the bill is to create an air of fear and threat among the Arab population, as other bills sponsored by the same Knesset faction do,” Horowitz protested.
“We have seen a series of bills that create delegitimization of Arabs in Israel as citizens,” he continued, adding that he “found it hard to believe that this law will be used in the case of Jewish terrorists.”
The vote on the bill was moved from Wednesday to Monday after Arab legislators requested that bills important to their constituents not be read on Wednesday so they could participate in Land Day commemorations.
Wednesday, the last day of plenum voting in the Knesset’s Winter Session, coincides with the annual commemoration of the 1976 anti-land appropriation protests held in Israeli Arab communities, during which six protesters were killed by security forces.
Also late Monday night, the plenum voted to officially strip former Balad MK Azmi Bishara of his parliamentary benefits, including his pension. The pension Bishara received from the Knesset stood at NIS 7,228 per month.
In February, the plenum voted into law a bill that would allow the parliament to deny benefits to MKs who failed to report to the police for questioning, for a trial, or to serve a prison sentence.