(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Arab lawmakers have voiced firm opposition to Interior Minister Eli Yishai's effort to increase his authority to revoke citizenship by advocating for a bill that would allow him to bypass the attorney-general.
Shas MK David Azoulai is expected to submit the private member's bill to the Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday.
If it eventually becomes law, the interior minister could cancel citizenship without a court proceeding. Instead, someone whose citizenship was revoked would only be able to appeal to a judge after the fact. Yishai said he decided to push the legislation after he received a letter from Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz saying that the process of revoking the citizenship of former Balad chairman Azmi Bishara was complicated.
"Yishai's proposal, as it was published, is not serious," former interior minister MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) said. "When I acted against terrorists as interior minister, there was no interference by the courts or the attorney-general."
Interior ministers were permitted to revoke citizenship independent of legal hearings until Paz-Pines's administration (January to November 2005), during which Paz-Pines worked to change the procedure. Currently, the interior minister may initiate the process, but a decision requires the signature of both a court and the attorney-general.
In early May, Yishai began proceedings to deny citizenship to four Israeli Arabs who have lived overseas for decades and who are suspected of involvement in illegal activities against Israel.
The four recently decided to return to Israel, and it was this decision that inspired Yishai to initiate the proceedings against them. He is still waiting for the court's response on the request.
"This is a racist and anti-democratic initiative that is intended to deny citizenship only to Arabs and not to Jews - not even to [Yitzhak Rabin's assassin] Yigal Amir," said MK Jamal Zahalka, who took over the direction of Balad after Bishara fled the country to avoid indictment for treason and espionage allegedly committed during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Bishara is still the party's chairman.
"Yishai wants to cancel court decisions and to take the authority over political revenge into his own hands. Revoking citizenship is forbidden by international law - citizenship is not a favor, but comes as a result of the fact that we are products of this land," Zahalka said.
MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) connected Yishai's initiative to a recent series of legislative initiatives that Arab lawmakers say all targeted Israeli Arabs, including the Nakba Bill and the bill to require a loyalty oath as a condition for receiving a national identity card.
"A spirit of evil and racism is washing over Israel in the street, in the Knesset and in the government," Tibi said. "Racism has been mainstream for a while now."