In Netanyahu's Eyes, Israeli Arab Citizenship Is Conditional on Behavior

There’s nothing like throwing rhetorical mud to smear an entire sector of the population and threatening it with a bared blade.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Police arrest a protester in the Galilee village of Kafr Kana, Nov. 8, 2014.
Police arrest a protester in the Galilee village of Kafr Kana, Nov. 8, 2014.Credit: Gil Eliahu
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

A solution has been found to the prime minister’s frustration over the presence of Arabs in the State of Israel. “I’ll direct the interior minister to look into revoking the citizenship of people who call for Israel’s destruction,” Benjamin Netanyahu announced after the riots in Kafr Kana, which were sparked by the police’s killing of Khayr al-Din Hamdan.

This astounding text deserves to be studied with a magnifying glass. Netanyahu won’t “order” the interior minister to deprive such people of citizenship; he’ll merely “direct” him to “look into” it. Nor does he state explicitly that he’s referring to Arabs. Even the offense that would lead to loss of citizenship was left suitably vague.

After all, no such crime as “calling for Israel’s destruction” appears in the Citizenship Law. Even the lunatic amendment to this law, which was sponsored by MKs David Rotem and Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beiteinu) and approved in 2011, grants a court or administrative authority the right to strip someone of citizenship only if he was convicted of treason, espionage, an act of terror or undermining the state’s sovereignty.

The prime minister’s careful formulation currently has no practical significance, unless dozens of Kfar Kana residents are defined as terrorists or as having undermined Israel’s sovereignty. But there’s nothing like throwing rhetorical mud to smear an entire sector of the population and threatening it with a bared blade. After all, we all know who “calls for Israel’s destruction”; we all understand that terror in Israel can emerge only from the houses of the state’s Palestinian citizens.

Netanyahu’s threatening finger isn’t pointed at the right-wing “price tag” vandals, or at the rioters who attacked soldiers and policemen in the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, or even at Yigal Amir, the man who assassinated former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. In the Jewish state, only Jews can be terrorists without fearing the loss of their citizenship. Only Jews can conduct negotiations with Hamas or hold meetings with terrorists without being indicted for “contact with a foreign agent” or “assisting a terrorist organization,” which constitute grounds for the revocation of citizenship.

The citizenship of Israel’s Arabs will always be conditional – a kind of favor the state grants with gritted teeth to those it considers natural enemies, the kind of people who, by the very fact of their being Arabs, aspire to “destroy Israel,” or at least are willing to help those who do. The sweeping expression Netanyahu used, “call for Israel’s destruction,” is aimed at putting Israeli Arabs in the same basket as Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, and painting them in the same colors as Islamic State (ISIS). From there, the road is short to the slogan “Arab Israelis are ISIS and ISIS is Arab Israelis.” It’s a fact that some of them have even joined ISIS. Would any sane person grant Israeli citizenship to ISIS operatives?

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman must be banging his head against the wall in frustration over making do with the slogan “No citizenship without loyalty.” That’s a weak, compassionate slogan that leaves Arabs with a chance of retaining their citizenship, if they agree to sing the national anthem and stand silently when the Memorial Day siren sounds. Still, it should be noted that he’s already corrected this mistake by proposing that the Triangle region be excised from the Jewish state and transferred to the Palestinian Authority. In any case, both he and Netanyahu see citizenship as a right that’s conditional on behavior.

In Israel, revoking citizenship has the status of an ordinary punishment. It’s no different than fines and jail terms, except that in contrast to ordinary prisoners, the sentenced person in this case is deprived of his political status and his fundamental rights.

In rejecting a petition to strip Yigal Amir of his citizenship, the High Court of Justice wrote that Rabin’s assassination “isn’t sufficient to justify the revocation of a fundamental right, even if it’s the right of a murderer. It’s clear that this isn’t out of respect for the murderer, who has been put where he is, but out of respect for the right.” Netanyahu is crushing respect for this right when he turns it into something that can be revoked on account of mere words.

But maybe it really is no big deal; in any case, it’s second-class citizenship.

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