'Disloyalty' bill passes first hurdle

Power to strip individuals of citizenship would go from interior minister to courts.

Bishara Balad party (photo credit: AP [file])
Bishara Balad party
(photo credit: AP [file])
The power to revoke Israeli citizenship based on "disloyalty to the state" would be handed over to the courts, under a bill presented by MK Gilad Erdan (Likud) that passed its preliminary reading on Wednesday. The ministerial committee on legislation on Sunday approved the bill, which does not clearly define a breach of loyalty but says it would include visiting an enemy country or acquiring citizenship of such a country. Under the current law, only the interior minister can revoke citizenship. Six months ago, Erdan requested that current Interior Minister Ronnie Bar-On revoke the citizenship of five Arab MKs who visited Syria and met with state officials there. Bar-On expressed interest in the request, but was told by Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz that the current law was unclear. Mazuz recommended that the Knesset change the law and transfer the authority to revoke citizenship to the courts, specifically district panels that deal with administrative issues, which could standardize the practice. "Israel is really a unique case, in that we have citizens here who plot and work against the state," Erdan told The Jerusalem Post. "I felt it was necessary to create this law so that we would have a clear way to punish citizens who plotted against the state." Last week the government agreed to vote in favor of the bill, although it imposed several stipulations, including the removal of an amendment that states that officials who visit enemy states will be banned from office. "It is clear that this amendment has been added to target Arab MKs; the government's support of the bill is a racist move," said a spokesman for the Hadash Party. During Wednesday's vote, 38 MKs from Kadima and the right wing parties voted in favor, while 18 MKs from Labor, Meretz, and the Arab parties voted against. Immediately following the vote, Education Minister Yuli Tamir (Labor) submitted a motion that the government revoke its support of the bill. There have only been two cases in which Israeli citizenship has been revoked by the interior minister. One was in 2002, when the citizenship of Kais Obeid was revoked because he was a senior Hizbullah terrorist in Lebanon. Later that year, Tulkarm resident Nihad Abu-Kishak was stripped of his citizenship after it was discovered that he was a member of the Hamas military wing. "Terrorists and their supporters use all the rights and freedoms provided by a democratic state to harm that state and its citizens," said Erdan. "Unfortunately, some of the people that Israel must defend itself against are its residents." The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) issued a statement against Erdan's law, basing most of its opposition to the amendment regarding "visiting enemy states." According to an ACRI spokesman, the law is too broad and could easily be misinterpreted in a harmful manner. MK Muhammad Barakei (Hadash) called the bill "more racist legislation." "The term 'enemy state' is misleading, because Israel is an enemy of the path to real peace in out region," said Barakei. He added that the decision by Defense Minister Amir Peretz to appoint MK Ghaleb Majadle to a cabinet post was a mark of "guilt" for the Labor Party not doing more to stop the bill.