Israel’s new interior minister, Gilad Erdan, said Saturday he was reviewing the possibility of revoking the Israeli residencies of East Jerusalem Arabs who support terror.
Earlier this month, Erdan, a member of governing party Likud, replaced fellow party member Gideon Sa’ar, who announced his departure from political life in September.
“I have instructed the staff at the Interior Ministry to assess and advise me on how my authority may be widened… to nullify the permanent residency and accompanying social rights of East Jerusalem Arabs who promote terror and incite violence,” Erdan said at a conference in Ness Ziona.
It was not clear what constituted promotion of terror in Erdan’s view, but his statements appeared to follow similar ones made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Earlier this month the premier said he would “instruct the interior minister to evaluate revoking the citizenship of those who call for the destruction of the State of Israel,” in response to widespread protests and riots among the Israeli Arab community following the police killing of a 22-year-old man in the Galilee town of Kafr Kanna.
While theoretically possible, changing the law to allow for such action has been described by experts as ethically problematic and a threat to freedom of speech.
In 2011, the Knesset passed a law, proposed by Yisrael Beytenu MK David Rotem, that allows the Supreme Court to revoke the citizenship of Israelis convicted of terrorism or espionage. At the time, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman praised the move as a step toward “contending with the phenomenon of exploiting democracy in order to subvert it.”
That law, however, does not apply to people who only speak out against the state.
Yet more problematic is the prime minister’s apparent intention to transfer the authority to revoke a person’s nationality from the courts to the cabinet. A judge is meant to be an independent arbiter of the law; the interior minister is a political figure who worries chiefly about his party and his popularity.
The initiative has been described as a radical threat to freedom of expression by Debbie Gild-Hayo, director of policy advocacy at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
“As is known, the importance of freedom of expression lies precisely in protecting extreme and controversial expressions,” she said earlier this month.
Erdan’s announcement came amid already high tensions in Jerusalem particularly, following five terror attacks in the capital in under a month, with all the perpetrators originating from East Jerusalem neighborhoods.
The recent violence in the city has been largely attributed to tensions surrounding the Temple Mount and widespread Palestinian assertions — denied by Israel — that Israel is planning to change the status quo at the site, the holiest in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam.
The latest terror attack saw the shooting and hacking to death of four men at prayer and a Druze policeman who tried to stop the killings at a synagogue in the capital’s Har Nof neighborhood on Tuesday morning. The two Palestinian terrorists, cousins Uday and Ghassan Abu Jamal from Jabel Mukaber, were shot and killed by police at the scene.
One of the cousins was employed at a grocery store near the synagogue.
Following the gruesome killings, which rattled Israel, Ashkelon mayor Itamar Shimoni announced Thursday that he would terminate construction of bomb/rocket shelters at any kindergarten where Arab workers were employed and also order the posting of armed guards outside kindergartens near building sites that employ Arab construction workers. The move drew condemnation from Israeli leaders across the political spectrum.
Netanyahu criticized Shimoni’s announcement, saying “There’s no place for discrimination against Israeli Arabs. We mustn’t generalize about an entire population because of a small minority of violent and belligerent [individuals].”
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said the move smacked of 1930s Germany.
Israel has vowed to respond forcefully to the attacks and has ordered the demolitions of the family homes of several terrorists, including the ones from Tuesday’s attack.
The government has also reportedly been considering not returning the bodies of the cousins to their families for burial, as an additional punitive measure.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.