Who Is a Citizen?

Interior Minister Eli Yishai might thus become the first interior minister in the history of the state to use Article 11c of the law governing citizenship, which seemingly allows him to annul citizenship.

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Two weeks ago, Interior Minister Eli Yishai sent letters to two Israeli Arabs and a third Arab with permanent residency status, informing them of his intention to annul their citizenship. Yishai might thus become the first interior minister in the history of the state to use Article 11c of the law governing citizenship, which seemingly allows the move.

The article, which experts on international law and civil rights regard as vague and problematic, authorizes the interior minister "to annul the citizenship of a person who acted in a manner that constituted a breach of trust with the state of Israel." It is no accident that it has never been used against anyone in the country. During Israel's history, there have been several breaches of trust of that sort - all by Jews (Yisrael Bar, Udi Adiv, Rami Dotan, Marcus Klingberg). In none of those cases was there a need to use the minister's authority to strip the criminals of their citizenship.

In 1998, when the Jerusalem District Court deliberated on whether to strip citizenship from a minor who committed murder in the U.S., thereby enabling the state to extradite him, the judges ruled that "the justifications for using this authority are vague." Indeed, all interior ministers thus far have understood that the very vagueness of the article paves the way for dangerous political or other interpretations. For example, in response to a 1996 High Court petition demanding the stripping of citizenship from YigalAmir, Yitzhak Rabin's killer, then interior minister Eliahu Suissa argued that although the assassination was indeed considered a breach of trust, he felt it best to avoid such a step as "it is extreme and drastic."

It is difficult to shake off the impression that the use of Article 11c is made easier simply because the current subjects are Arabs. Yishai, and the heads of the security services whom he says are pressuring him, are exploiting the fear of terror and the crisis in personal security that has afflicted the public. But these steps are liable to lead to far greater damage to the substance and image of Israel than any security benefits that might be derived from the move. The possibility that citizenship could be stripped from Israeli Arabs essentially redefines all such citizens as conditional ones, and it would eliminate any remaining hopes for the integration of the Arab community, with equal rights, into the state and Israeli society.

But the unprecedented evoking of Article 11c against Arab citizens has even graver implications. If Yishai manages to follow through on his decision, he would be empowered with a sweeping mandate for future damage to the civil rights of every citizen of Israel. At the end of the 20th century, during which millions of refugees were condemned to identity-less and homeless lives, humiliation and death, international treaties were concluded to guarantee that never again would there be people without citizenship.

Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 states that "everyone has the right to a nationality" and that "no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality." Israel, whose very existence is predicated on the justified demand to end a cycle of tragic refugeeism through sovereignty, will be making a very gross mistake if it allows the interior minister to strip people of their citizenship when the only proper place to judge their actions is in the courtroom.



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