Calls to Strip Israeli MK of Citizenship Are Dangerous and Irresponsible

The numerous and sweeping proposals to limit dissent and protest are dangerous, even if most of them will never be passed.

Ruth Gavison
Ruth Gavison
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Israeli Arab lawmaker Haneen Zoabi speaks at a news conference in Jerusalem, December 19, 2012.
Israeli Arab lawmaker Haneen Zoabi speaks at a news conference in Jerusalem, December 19, 2012. Credit: Reuters
Ruth Gavison
Ruth Gavison

If reports that Interior Minister Eli Yishai asked the attorney general to strip MK Haneen Zoabi of her Israeli citizenship are true, then once again we have unbending proof that freedom of speech covers quite a few statements that should never have been said.

MK Zoabi is an Israeli citizen by birth. She is a citizen of the state by right, not benevolence. Nobody has considered revoking the citizenship of the other Israelis who participated in the Gaza-bound flotilla. It is not at all clear that such participation was even illegal.

Immunity is supposed to assist members of Knesset in fulfilling their duties. It certainly should not limit their freedom. It must be made clear that the issue of MK Zoabi's citizenship should not be on the agenda.

I assume that Yishai knows this - and maybe he knows that his proposal will not be actualized, in any case. After all, Israel is a state of law. The attorney general would not approve such a move, and if he did, the courts would not allow such a terrible step to occur. Is Yishai just trying to play to the whims of angry potential voters?

This must be clarified: the interior minister is not just a mere citizen of the state. It's bad enough to think that statements like these could help a minister, from a political perspective. But even if that were the case – and that must change – statements like these should make us ask whether this minister is even fit to serve in his position, just as Zoabi's participation in the flotilla makes us question whether she should serve in the Knesset.

Official positions like these are accompanied not just by extra rights and influences – they also carry with them an obligation to all citizens of this county.

The interior minister needs to show that he understands the realm of responsibility that goes along with his job. He must understand that his commitment to law, to human rights and to democracy is not just instrumental.

He must not abuse his powers by reducing freedom of expression and outlawing dissent, especially within the minority sector – not just because this is how things should be, but because this minister represents not only himself, but the entire state.

Similarly, a Knesset member should use all tools at his or her disposal to influence the policies of the state. He or she can refuse to act in accordance with state decisions.

But it can be argued – even if it is not necessary to do so – that participation in international activities likely to embarrass the state and thwart its policies (such as unofficial visits to enemy states) should be seen as reason enough to prevent a person from serving as a member of Knesset, in accordance with reasonable judicial review process.

It is not enough that the interior minister's call will never come to fruition, or that the MK's participation did not fundamentally change the flotilla's intentions and results.

The numerous and sweeping proposals to limit dissent and protest are dangerous, even if most of them will never be passed. They only serve to enforce the platforms of those who claim Israel is becoming a belligerent country that belittles democracy and human rights.

Zoabi's participation in the flotilla did not strengthen civil bonds between Jews and Arabs in Israel. She exacerbated the fears of the Jewish majority and bolstered those those with the dangerous tendency of painting the Arab minority and its leaders as enemies of the state.

It is crucial for us to have leaders with a vision, but they do not appear on command. No leader, however, has the excuse to act irresponsibly.



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