David Rotem
Photo by Tess Scheflan
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The Shin Bet security service favors a bill that would allow Israelis convicted of terrorism to be stripped of their citizenship.

This revelation emerged at yesterday's meeting of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which was discussing the bill.

"The principles of the proposal authorizing the denial of citizenship include an element of deterrence with regard to incidents that harm security," the Shin Bet's legal advisor (whose name cannot be published ) told the panel. "This power must rest with the courts in some form or another."

The bill would also enable permanent residents convicted of terrorism to be stripped of their residency right.

During the discussion, it emerged that existing legislation already permits people to be deprived of citizenship if convicted of crimes such as espionage, though this power has rarely been used. That led opponents like MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz ) to demand what point the new bill, sponsored by committee chairman David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ), would even serve.

Moreover, Rotem's bill would have limited application: Only people with dual citizenship could be stripped of their Israeli citizenship entirely.

Someone without dual citizenship could still lose his Israeli citizenship, but would be granted permanent residency - which normally confers all the same rights as citizenship except the right to vote.

However, the bill also states that someone convicted of terrorism would lose his right to all allowances paid by the state, such as child allowances or welfare.

No distinction made

Formally, the bill makes no distinction between Jewish and Arab terrorists. Nevertheless, many speakers at the meeting charged that it would specifically undermine Israeli Arabs' feelings of belonging to the state.

Rotem said the bill was meant to prevent a situation in which someone "betrays the state but continues to be part of it."

Noting that the bill could vest authority to strip someone's citizenship in the courts, he added, "Don't you trust the courts?"

MK Talab El-Sana (United Arab List-Ta'al ) responded with a personal attack. "The chairman of your party is the biggest criminal in the State of Israel," he yelled at Rotem, referring to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. ""He's suspected of very serious offenses and has been investigated by the police. In my view, he's the chairman of the mafia in Israel."

Attorney Debbie Gild-Hayo of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel offered a more substantive objection: Stripping someone of citizenship as punishment for the crime of disloyalty, she said, was a tactic "characteristic of totalitarian regimes. Democratic states don't strip people of citizenship, even if they were convicted of the gravest possible crimes."

Moreover, she said, the few people in Israel's history who have been stripped of citizenship were all Arabs, "even though Jewish citizens have also been convicted of treason and giving secrets to enemy states. The purpose of this bill is not to advance security, but to send a humiliating and discriminatory message that Arab Israelis' citizenship is not self-evident."