Conditional Citizenship

One day, MK Gilad Erdan (Likud) came up with an idea for how to punish Arab Knesset members who travel to Beirut and Damascus: declaring that they have "broken faith" with the state and stripping them of their citizenship.

One day, MK Gilad Erdan (Likud) came up with an idea for how to punish Arab Knesset members who travel to Beirut and Damascus: declaring that they have "broken faith" with the state and stripping them of their citizenship. The initiative added a patriotic headline to Erdan's collection of press clippings.

Living from headline to headline is obviously not unique to him: That is also the lifestyle of, among others, the Arab MKs who make anti-Zionist declarations in Damascus and Beirut. But some gimmicks are dangerous: Before anyone realizes it, they develop a life of their own and threaten to become reality. That is what happened with Erdan's silly idea: The Ministerial Committee on Legislation adopted it this week.

Currently, the interior minister is authorized to remove someone's citizenship if, inter alia, he "broke faith" with the state. Let it be said to Ophir Pines-Paz's credit that during his tenure as interior minister, he proposed abolishing this ministerial authority. But instead of eliminating it entirely, the ministerial committee is now proposing to transfer it to the courts.

"Breach of faith" will presumably not include, for example, a decision to send the nation into an unnecessary and failed war, or expanding the corrosive occupation of the territories, or governmental corruption in general. Rather, this bill belongs among the plethora of initiatives aimed at effecting a "transfer" of Arabs.

The idea of overt transfer, fruit of the nationalist thought of David Ben-Gurion and the religious racism of Meir Kahane and others, has in recent years given way to pseudo-legitimate initiatives such as Avigdor Lieberman's proposal to draw new borders that would leave many Arab Israelis outside the country. Similarly, there are currently people writing learned working papers that ostensibly deal with ways to change the system of government. But in practice, more than a few of these proposals are aimed at crushing Arab Israelis' electoral strength and their Knesset representatives.

The State of Israel grants citizenship with intolerable ease to anyone whom it defines as a Jew. But in recent years, it has become one of the most benighted countries in the world when it comes to granting citizenship, or even mere residency rights, to people who are not Jewish. In this context, it developed a mechanism for the mass deportation of foreign workers. Not many are aware of this, and few object to it. The withdrawal from Gaza and the dismantlement of the Gush Katif settlements also failed to create a real trauma, and to some degree, it even bolstered the option of a mass expulsion. Similarly, one cannot rule out the possibility that an expulsion of Arab Israelis would pass without widespread opposition - for instance, on the pretext that they had "broken faith" with their country.

Ostensibly, the goal is to deter Arab MKs from political activity in Arab states in violation of the law. The excuse is primarily "security," just as the intifada served as a security excuse for the "temporary order" that prevents citizens of the state from bringing their Palestinian spouses here to live. In practice, the proposed law is liable to turn all Arabs into conditional citizens, after they have already become, in many respects, second-class citizens. Any attempt to formulate an alternative to the Zionist reality is liable to be interpreted as a "breach of faith" and a pretext for stripping them of their citizenship - something that, in the best case, would make them the equivalent of refugees, and in many cases, would be almost like depriving them of life.

Citizenship is a basic human right that should not be taken away, whether it was due to place of birth, inherited or granted by law. It should not be conditional on any kind of ideological loyalty, or even on obeying the law: Murderers and serial rapists, spies and traitors, and terrorists, both Jewish and Arab, should all be punished, but they should not lose their citizenship.

The Justice Ministry is not enthusiastic about Erdan's initiative, but the fact that the ministerial committee is willing to send the matter on to the Knesset for discussion ought to arouse concern. If basic democratic decency does not block this initiative, one can still hope that the ultra-Orthodox will do so: Many of them also do not "keep faith" with Zionist ideology, so the proposed law is liable to turn them into conditional citizens as well.