Culture minister seeks to revoke citizenship of soccer player over support for Gaza

Miki Zohar claims that Arab Israeli athlete Ataa Jaber, who plays for the Palestinian national team, has chosen to ‘identify with the Nazi terrorist organization Hamas’

Palestinian national team's forward #23 Ataa Jaber fights for the ball with Lebanon's forward #08 Hassan Saad during the 2026 FIFA World Cup AFC qualifiers football match at the Khalid Bin Mohammed Stadium in Sharjah on November 16, 2023. (Photo by Giuseppe Cacace/AFP)
Palestinian national team's forward #23 Ataa Jaber fights for the ball with Lebanon's forward #08 Hassan Saad during the 2026 FIFA World Cup AFC qualifiers football match at the Khalid Bin Mohammed Stadium in Sharjah on November 16, 2023. (Photo by Giuseppe Cacace/AFP)

Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar has requested that the citizenship of an Israeli athlete who plays soccer for the Palestinian national team be revoked after he observed a minute of silence for Gaza during a match against Lebanon last week.

In a letter to Interior Minister Moshe Arbel, Zohar requested that the citizenship of Arab Israeli Ataa Jaber be revoked due to his “clear identification with terrorists.”

Zohar’s request came after Jaber, who has played for several Israeli teams in the past, including Maccabi Haifa, observed a minute of silence “in solidarity with Palestine” during a match against Lebanon last Thursday.

“On November 16, 2023, the Israeli citizen and soccer player Ataa Jaber participated in a match as part of the 2026 World Cup qualifiers in the United Arab Emirates where he represented the team that calls itself ‘Palestine’ against the Lebanese team,” Zohar wrote. “During the game, Jaber expressed identification with the enemy when he stood for a minute of silence in memory of ‘the victims in Gaza’ while ignoring the murdered on the Israeli side and identifying with the Nazi terrorist organization Hamas.”

The minute of silence was held due to the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, after Hamas’s October 7 onslaught in southern Israel in which at least 1,200 people were killed, most of them civilians, and some 240 were taken hostage. In response, Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas from the Gaza Strip, which the terror group has ruled since 2007, and launched an offensive from the air as well as a ground campaign.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry has said that more than 12,000 Palestinians have been killed since October 7. These numbers cannot be independently verified and are believed to include members of the terror group, as well as civilians killed by misfired rockets, of which hundreds have fallen inside of the Strip.

Palestinian team members sing the national anthem ahead of the 2026 FIFA Soccer World Cup qualifier against Lebanon in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Martin Dokoupil)

“It is impossible that in the midst of the war in Gaza, an Israeli citizen would choose to identify with the enemy who massacred and murdered over 1,300 men, women and babies on October 7, 2023,” Zohar continued in his letter to Arbel.

“We are required to show zero tolerance toward terrorism supporters and to use a heavy hand against any Israeli citizen who expresses support for the enemy,” he wrote.

“Against the background of this clear identification with terrorists, which is prohibited according to the anti-terrorism law, I would like to revoke Jaber’s citizenship in accordance with the conditions set forth in the 1972 Citizenship Law,” Zohar wrote. “According to the aforementioned law, the interior minister may revoke a person’s Israeli citizenship if it is proven that that person committed an act that constitutes a breach of trust to the State of Israel.”

According to Hebrew media outlet Ynet, Jaber has explained in past interviews that his decision to play for the Palestinian national team rather than Israel was in part because he hoped to “convey a message to [Arab] players inside the green line [inside Israel proper] that this choice is available to them.”

Several Arab Israeli players have starred for the Israeli national team over the years.

Referencing this in his letter to Arbel, Zohar suggested that in addition to his support for Gaza in the midst of war, “Jaber’s decision to tie his fate with the enemies of the State of Israel” appears to stem from a desire to acquire Palestinian citizenship, in violation of Israel’s Citizenship Law.

Israeli politicians have in the past made several legislative and legal efforts to strip Arab Israelis of their citizenship, but usually only for terror offenses or treason.

Critics have also branded such attempts as racist, noting that such legislation would not apply to Jewish Israelis convicted of terror offenses.

Stripping convicted terrorists of their citizenship is not unheard of and has been implemented by other Western countries in the past. Legal and security experts, as well as human rights activists, however, have questioned the effectiveness of such measures for improving national security.

Last year the High Court of Justice ruled that authorities can hypothetically revoke the citizenship of people who carry out terror attacks and commit other crimes that constitute a breach of trust against the State of Israel.

The ruling stated that citizens who carry out such actions can have their citizenship revoked even if they have no other citizenship, but said that the interior minister would then be obligated to provide that person with a residency permit.

The caveat effectively ensures that those impacted by the law retain all rights that a citizen holds except the right to vote, making it similar to laws in over a dozen US states where felons lose their voting rights during their incarceration.

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