New Israeli Law Allows Terror Suspects Abroad to Be Kept From Attending Citizenship Hearing

Knesset approves law relating to cases like former MK Azmi Bishara, suspected of espionage; permits courts to stop person from entering country and to revoke citizenship in his absence.

Former MK Azmi Bishara – who subsequently fled Israel after being suspected of engaging in espionage – at a police station in Israel in 2006.
Moti Kimche

The new law passed in the Knesset on Monday permits blocking the entry into the country of a terror suspect who lives abroad but wants to attend a hearing about rescinding his Israeli citizenship. The law will allow such hearings to be held even if the suspects cannot or do not want to come to Israel to attend them.

Knesset Interior Committee chairman MK David Amsalem (Likud) clarified during the debate in the plenum that the law was aimed at cases like that of former MK Azmi Bishara – who fled Israel after being suspected of engaging in espionage – and of young people who leave Israel to join the ranks of the Islamic State. Even though existing law allows the state to revoke the citizenship of Israelis involved in terror activities, it could not previously do so in cases where the suspects fled the country or left it to operate abroad.

Now an Israeli court can prevent a terror suspect from returning for his hearings “if it is convinced that the entry poses a palpable risk to state security or public safety, and there is no other way to prevent such danger.”

In this case, the court will appoint a lawyer to represent the individual at the citizenship hearing, or the suspect can appoint counsel of his own.

Revocation of citizenship will be based on the existing statute, which empowers a court for administrative affairs – at the request of the interior minister – to cancel the citizenship if the individual in question is suspected of involvement in an act of terror, assisted in one, or was active in a terror organization.

During the Knesset debate Monday, Interior Minister Arye Dery commented about the new legislation that, “This process hasn’t been simple for us. This is a law that for years has aimed to close the existing lacuna. In recent years, unfortunately, Israeli citizens have left to fight in the ranks of the enemy, particularly the Islamic State, which wants to annihilate the State of Israel. Because of the lacuna in the law, we could not legally take any action against them since they weren’t in Israel and they couldn’t be summoned to a hearing.

“Unfortunately we’re talking about no small number of Israeli citizens who have spent lengthy periods in Syria, Iraq, Libya. Theoretically they could have returned to Israel as if nothing happened,” Dery added. “This law is very important and I’m happy it’s reached the home stretch.”

MK Jamal Zahalka (Joint Arab List) lashed out at the new legislation during the discussion.

“What do we need this law for?” he asked. “I can tell you that Bishara hasn’t heard of this law. It’s a dangerous law. It opens the door for rescinding citizenship. In international law, revocation of citizenship is a most extreme thing. In the United States it’s easier to execute someone than to cancel his citizenship.

“You haven’t proposed rescinding the citizenship of Yigal Amir,” said Zahalka, referring to the man who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. “I want to see you face that test, and I’ll [still] oppose it. In principle I oppose annulling citizenship, even of people who have done the most serious things.”