Chair: 'Responsibility to prevent the next attack is on us'

Bill to revoke PA-paid terrorists’ citizenship approved for final readings Wednesday

Legislation that would block reentry into Israel and strip citizenship, even if offender lacks another, has garnered rare cross-aisle support

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Likud MK Ofir Katz, leading a special Knesset committee to discuss a bill to revoke terrorist citizenship, February 14, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK Ofir Katz, leading a special Knesset committee to discuss a bill to revoke terrorist citizenship, February 14, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A cross-aisle bill to revoke citizenship from convicted terrorists who receive Palestinian Authority funds for their crimes passed its penultimate stage on Tuesday, receiving approval for its final two readings Wednesday on the Knesset floor.

The bill applies to both Israeli citizens and permanent residents incarcerated following a conviction for terror, aiding terror, harming Israeli sovereignty, inciting war, or aiding an enemy during wartime, and enables the interior minister to revoke their status after a hearing. The bill also expands the ability to revoke citizenship from persons lacking a second citizenship, provided they have a permanent residence status outside of Israel. Once citizenship is revoked, the person would be denied entry back into Israel.

The Palestinian Authority regularly pays stipends to convicted terrorists, and the bill also applies to organizations that pay out on the PA’s behalf. The requirement to receive PA-linked money makes the bill inapplicable to Jewish terrorists.

Challenging plans to raise the bill for its final readings on Wednesday, a senior Justice Ministry official raised concerns about its legality to the special Knesset committee preparing the law.

“This proposal is complicated and poses legal difficulties,” said Avital Sternberg, a senior legal adviser for public law at the ministry, told the panel before the approval vote. Objecting to the bill’s failure to consider a letter from the PA declaring no ties between itself and the terrorist as proof against secondary residency, she added, “We are concerned this may create a legal impediment.”

Likud MK Ofir Katz, the chairman of the special committee and one of the many sponsors of the bill, swatted away the legal criticism. “The responsibility to prevent the next attack is ultimately on us, the elected officials, and not on any jurist,” he told the committee.

Medics and police officers at the scene of a deadly car-ramming terror attack near the Ramot junction, in Jerusalem on February 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The bill previously cleared its preliminary and first Knesset readings with sweeping support from both coalition and opposition MKs, a rare feat amid a pitched battle between the two camps regarding the government’s plan to debilitate the judiciary. A prolonged terror wave and recent celebratory terrorist prison releases have bolstered support for the measure among right-wing and centrist lawmakers.

The special committee’s legal adviser also found fault with the bill, telling the committee that its “proposals are liable to infringe on basic individual rights.”

However, Tomer Rosner added that “the justification for this harm was recognized by the Knesset as the very enactment of the law and by the court as a worthy purpose,” referring back to Israel’s 1952 Citizenship Law, which the current bill would modify.

“We believe that the benefit gained from this action” — revoking citizenship and residency — “outweighs the damage caused by it. The arrangement is not free of difficulties, but it is possible to stand behind it,” Rosner added.

Rosner’s legal advice, like all advice emanating from Knesset legal advisers, is non-binding upon lawmakers but can be raised in future court challenges to legislation.

The latest version of the bill includes a clause stating that for the purpose of determining whether a convicted terrorist holds permanent residency status in the Palestinian Authority, “a notice from the Palestinian Authority regarding not granting permanent status to that person will not be considered proof, per se, as a contradiction of the aforementioned possession” of residency.

Arab lawmakers have railed against the bill, which Hadash-Ta’al senior lawmaker Ahmad Tibi has called “racist” and engineered to apply only to Palestinian, rather than also to Jewish, terrorists via its requirement that the attackers stripped of their citizenship be the recipients of PA funds.

MK Ahmad Tibi speaks in the Knesset plenum during a memorial ceremony marking 27 years since the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, November 6, 2022. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Katz, however, reiterated his desire to pass this bill in the face of Palestinian terror, which has peaked in a series of deadly attacks in recent weeks.

“Two weeks ago, I went to console bereaved families from the attack in Neve Yaakov” in Jerusalem, which saw a Palestinian gunman kill seven people outside a synagogue on Shabbat, Katz said. Last Friday, three people were killed by a car ramming attack in Jerusalem, including a pair of elementary school-aged brothers. On Monday, a Border Police officer was stabbed to death by a Palestinian teen in Jerusalem’s Shuafat neighborhood.

“We heard the demands of the bereaved families from us. They want us to pass a law, to find a solution. I don’t know how to explain to them what a legal impediment is. It is simply unbearable that we have to take this into account. We will not stop because there is a legal impediment,” Katz added, stressing that the “responsibility” fell on elected officials to act.

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