Knesset passes law to strip terrorists who receive PA stipends of Israeli citizenship

Law, also blocking future entry into the country, garners rare support of 94 of the Knesset’s 120 MKs; Arab MK: ‘A populist, draconian law’

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

Members of Zaka Rescue and Recovery team check a body after a terror shooting attack near a synagogue in Jerusalem, Jan. 27, 2023 (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
Members of Zaka Rescue and Recovery team check a body after a terror shooting attack near a synagogue in Jerusalem, Jan. 27, 2023 (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

The Knesset approved a law on Wednesday to strip convicted terrorists with Israeli nationality of their citizenship — provided they receive funding from the Palestinian Authority or an associated organization.

The law, an amendment to Israel’s 1952 Citizenship Law, 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 law enables citizenship to be revoked even if the person lacks 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.

Sometimes referred to as “pay for slay,” the Palestinian Authority regularly pays stipends to convicted terrorists, and the law also applies to organizations that pay out on the PA’s behalf.

The requirement to receive PA-linked money makes the law inapplicable to Jewish terrorists.

Registering rare cross-Knesset support, the law passed with the support of 94 MKs on its third and final reading, with 10 lawmakers voting against. While its main sponsor was Likud MK Ofir Katz, it also counted members of the opposition’s right-wing and center-left lawmakers among its cosigned supporters.

Heralding the legislative victory, Katz said that the law is “the dawn of a new era,” stating from the Knesset floor that” I know and feel from the bottom of my heart that such laws are our true mission as elected officials.”

“I say unequivocally, a terrorist who receives money from the Palestinian Authority should fly from here to Gaza, anywhere else. Do not stay here. He won’t be here,” Katz said.

Likud MK Ofir Katz at a Knesset committee meeting on January 17, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Amid an ongoing terror wave and two recent, high-profile and security prisoner releases celebrated by Palestinians, proponents touted the bill as a deterrent to terror. It passed against opposition from Arab lawmakers, who labeled the law’s tailoring to carve out Jewish terrorists as “racist.”

It also faced a warning from a Justice Ministry adviser, who counseled lawmakers against provisions that let them strip citizenship from terrorists on the basis of their holding permanent residency with the PA, even if the PA denies the connection.

Citizenship and residency would be revoked at the request of the interior minister, who would have to consult with an advisory committee and obtain the approval of the justice minister before making his recommendation to the courts.

In an explanatory note accompanying the law, its sponsors explain: “It is inconceivable that citizens and residents of Israel who not only betrayed the state and Israeli society, but who have also agreed to receive payment from the PA as a reward for committing the act of terrorism and continue to benefit from it — will continue to hold Israeli citizenship or residency.

“Many people who hold Israeli citizenship or residency are currently receiving monthly salaries from the Palestinian Authority as wages and remuneration for committing acts of terrorism. These salaries gradually increase with the seniority of the people in prison,” the notes continued.

Arab Israeli Karim Younis is carried by friends and relatives following his release after 40 years in an Israeli prison for kidnapping and murdering an Israeli soldier, on January 5, 2023, in the northern Israeli town of ‘Ara. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

Senior Hadash-Ta’al lawmaker Ahmad Tibi slammed the “populist, draconian law” for being tailor-made to deport only Palestinian terrorists.

Accusing large swaths of the Knesset of sponsoring a “feeling of Jewish supremacy,” Tibi said the law shows that “citizenship is a treaty between the state and a citizen, only for Jews. An Arab who commits an offense is a conditional citizen.”

Invoking the example of late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, Jewish extremist Yigal Amir, who still sits in an Israeli jail, Tibi said that “a Jew who commits the same offense, or a more serious offense, does not even think about citizenship revocation.”

One of the most right-wing members of the opposition, National Unity MK Ze’ev Elkin firmly backed the law as “just.”

“There is no law more just than this,” he said, adding that “the reality in which a resident or citizen of the State of Israel takes weapons, kills and then receives a salary from the Palestinian Authority is distorted and delusional.”

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)

“This step will bring justice and end the distorted mechanism of encouraging terrorism,” Elkin told the plenum.

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