In a further escalation of the backlash against the anti-occupation nonprofit B'Tselem after it addressed the UN Security Council, the chairman of the coalition said Friday that he will seek to have the citizenship of the group's CEO revoked.
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Likud lawmaker David Bitan told Channel 2 that B'Tselem head Hagai El-Ad's remarks were an "explicit breach of trust by an Israeli citizen against the state, and as such he should find himself another citizenship." His remarks are scheduled to air on the channel's Friday evening news program.
The law allows the state to revoke someone's citizenship only in cases of terrorism, treason or espionage. The situation becomes more legally complex if the person in question has no other citizenship, since international law prohibits denying a person a nationality.
Bitan was immediately rebuked for his reported remarks by the chairwoman of Meretz, MK Zehava Galon, who called them "dangerously close to incitement to murder."
"Maybe instead of revoking citizenship from political dissidents, MK Bitan, you should just hand out blacklists of people to organizations?" Galon tweeted.
"In a democracy, citizenship is basic right. It's not a gift given to those who appeal to the chairman of the coalition. The hunting season has started," she added.
During the UN Security Council session on the settlements last Friday, the B'Tselem director called on the council to take action after 50 years of Israeli occupation of the West Bank. El-Ad said that the Israeli government had used the peace process to play for time to take over areas of the West Bank by building settlements.
“After so many years, one has to draw certain conclusions Israel will not cease being an oppressor simply by waking up one morning and realizing the brutality of its policies,” he told the Security Council. “So far the world refuses to take effective action We need your help. The rights of the Palestinians must be realized; the occupation must end, the UN Security Council must act; the time is now.”
Following his speech, El-Ad was severely condemned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called B'Tselem a "fleeting and bizarre" organization. “What these organizations cannot achieve through democratic elections in Israel, they try to achieve by international coercion,” he said.
Netanyahu also tasked Biton with taking steps to remove B'Tselem from the list of organizations in which Israelis of army age can volunteer during their national service.
B’Tselem is entitled to a single national service volunteer, but this slot is currently unmanned. In the past, the National Service Authority has tried to cancel the NGO's allotment of volunteers, but this effort was thwarted by Dina Zilber, a deputy attorney general. It was made clear to the authority that it was unlawful to cancel the organization's allotment since it met all the legal requirements to receive a volunteer.
The U.S. criticized Netanyahu's remarks, saying that the administration values the information published by B'Tselem about the situation in the West Bank and stressed that governments should defend freedom of speech.
“I am not going to comment on everything that has been said," State Department spokesman John Kirby told Haaretz. "In general, we believe that a free and unfettered civil society is a critical component of democracy. As we have said many times, we believe it is important that governments protect the freedoms of expression, and create an atmosphere where all voices can be heard."
On Wednesday, the UN Security Council’s monthly meeting on the Middle East sparked an open disagreement between Israel and the United States, with all the other council members watching, over the activities of the B’Tselem organization.
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon assailed B’Tselem and demanded that the UN stop funding the organization, arguing that doing do constitutes a direct interference in Israel’s internal affairs.
That prompted America’s alternate representative to the United Nations, David Pressman, to leap to B’Tselem’s defense.
“We thank these NGOs – B'Tselem and Americans for Peace Now – for sharing their technical expertise as we recognize other NGOs around the world who shed light on difficult issues it is vital that all governments protect and create an atmosphere that all voices can be heard,” he said.