JERUSALEM — Israel's Knesset, or parliament, has passed a law which would enable the court system to revoke the citizenship of anyone convicted of spying, treason or helping the enemy during times of war.
The bill, which was passed by 37 to 11 at a late-night session on Monday, was initiated by two Knesset members (MKs) from the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
The new legislation empowers the Israeli court system to revoke the citizenship of anyone convicted on charges of "terrorism," espionage, helping the enemy during time of war or any other act which harms national sovereignty.
"Without loyalty, there can be no citizenship," Lieberman said just minutes after the bill was passed, in comments reported by the Jerusalem Post. "Any person who harms the country cannot enjoy the benefits of citizenship and its fruit."
The law is part of Lieberman's "no loyalty, no citizenship" campaign which he pushed during the run up to the 2009 elections, which is widely understood to target Israel's Arab minority.
Arab Israeli MPs blasted as "racist" the new law which they said was aimed solely at the country's Arab minority, in a stance backed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).
"MKs have made it clear that even though the wording of the bill is broad, it is very clearly aimed at Israel's Arab citizens, and sends them a message that their citizenship is not guaranteed," ACRI spokeswoman Ronit Sela told AFP.
In passing the bill, the parliament was sending "a very severe" message to the Arab community which makes up around a fifth of Israel's citizens, she said.
"The vote in support of this bill shows that the Knesset has lost sight of a very important principle: that citizenship is not a prize that is given or taken away, it is a person's protected right," she said.
Although a similar procedure for revoking citizenship already exists under the 1952 Nationality Law, it could only be done through the interior ministry.
"Before, it was a separate process handled by the interior ministry, but now, if the court has convicted someone, they can revoke citizenship at the same time as handing down sentence," she said.
The move will also affect those with residency status, such as Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem, she said.
At the same time, MPs also backed, by 29 in favour to 8 against, a move to revoke the pension of Azmi Bishara, a former Arab Israeli MP who fled the country four years ago after being accused of helping Lebanon's Hezbollah militia.
Bishara left Israel in April 2007 following allegations he advised Hezbollah and directed its rocket fire against Israel during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. He has repeatedly denied the claims.
Israel's 1.3 million Arab citizens, who make up 20 percent of the population, are Palestinians who remained in the country following the creation of the Jewish state in 1948, along with their descendants.