Knesset to fast-track bills revoking citizenship of terror convicts getting PA wages

Coalition legislation set to be approved by plenum within 2 weeks; Arab MK Tibi says it singles out Arabs; Likud MK retorts: ‘I prefer Jewish murderers over Arab murderers’

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

The Knesset's House Committee chair Likud MK Ofir Katz during a debate on fast-tracking bills that would annul the citizenship of convicted terrorists who receive stipends from the Palestinian Authority, in the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 9, 2023. (Noam Moshkovitz, Knesset spokesperson)
The Knesset's House Committee chair Likud MK Ofir Katz during a debate on fast-tracking bills that would annul the citizenship of convicted terrorists who receive stipends from the Palestinian Authority, in the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 9, 2023. (Noam Moshkovitz, Knesset spokesperson)

A key Knesset panel gave a green light Monday for fast-tracking bills seeking to revoke the Israeli citizenship or residency of convicted terrorists who receive payment from the Palestinian Authority for their actions, in the latest hardline move by the new government.

The Knesset’s House Committee, headed by Likud MK Ofir Katz, approved an exemption that will expedite the bills’ legislative process and allow the Knesset to vote on them within two weeks, according to a statement issued by the committee.

The bill, introduced by lawmakers from the Religious Zionism and Likud parties, would revoke citizenship from terror convicts known to have received allowances, directly or indirectly, from the Palestinian Authority for their acts of terror.

“For years we’ve become accustomed to having an entity [the PA] receive funding from the State of Israel while it maintains an official price list: ‘Murdered a Jew? Here’s a stipend. And if you’re an Israeli citizen, you’ll get more, depending on how many people you’ve killed,'” said Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman, who helped draft the bill. “The bare minimum we can do as a moral country is to revoke their citizenship and residency.”

The move was supported by coalition members as well as right-wing committee members from the opposition, but was slammed by Arab Israeli MKs.

Hadash-Ta’al lawmaker Ahmad Tibi said the proposed bill related to “a selective issue that only addresses Arabs.”

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

He suggested “also revoking the citizenship of the person who killed a prime minister,” referring to Jewish right-wing extremist Yigal Amir, who has been incarcerated since assassinating former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

“Since the murder, has anyone in the Knesset considered revoking the murderer’s citizenship? Did anyone consider discussing the annulment of Ami Popper’s citizenship after he massacred seven Palestinian laborers?” Tibi added, referring to an attack in Rishon Lezion in 1990 by a right-wing extremist. “It’s better to commit the worst crimes when you’re Jewish.”

In response to Tibi, Likud MK Hanoch Milwidsky said “I prefer Jewish murderers over Arab murderers.”

“In the Jewish state, I prefer Jews over disloyal Arabs,” he added. “We’ve stopped apologizing for it.”

Tibi called these comments “the sentence that encapsulates this term [of parliament]” and asked Milwidsky to repeat them in English.

“We’re through apologizing for it,” said the Likud MK in English.

Tibi, in English: “A Jewish murderer is better and superior than an Arab murder?”

Milwidsky, in English: “Than an Arab terrorist, yes… There is no Jewish terrorists… So far there were no Jewish terrorists.”

New Likud MK Hanoch Milwidsky arrives at the Knesset in Jerusalem for its opening session on November 15, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

One aspect of the bill reportedly being debated by coalition lawmakers is whether convicted terrorists whose citizenship would be revoked under the new law, when it’s passed, would be handed over to the PA or remain incarcerated in Israel.

In addition, the House Committee approved a request by the government to expedite discussions of bills to extend emergency regulations in the West Bank, a routine move since Israel seized the territory from Jordan in 1967, but one which caused significant tension within the previous, short-lived coalition.

The move to expedite the legislation comes after the release last week of convicted Arab Israeli terrorist Karim Younis, who served 40 years behind bars for the 1980 kidnapping and murder of Israeli soldier Avraham Bromberg, and the subsequent celebrations at his home village of ‘Ara in northern Israel, attended by PA officials, which sparked anger among members of the government.

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)

“The celebrations we witnessed [last week] for the despicable terrorist within Israeli territory were infuriating… The absurdity of terrorists committing acts of terror, receiving payment by the PA, and then returning to live among us is unthinkable,” said committee head Katz.

“There is a wide-reaching consensus among most factions to expedite the bill. I plan on completing this important legislation within two weeks,” he added.

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri had tried to no avail to prevent the release of Karim and his brother Maher, who was convicted over the same attack and is set to be released from prison next week.

The PA’s practice of paying allowances to those convicted in Israel of carrying out terror attacks and to the families of those killed while carrying out attacks — referred to by some Israeli officials as a pay-for-slay policy — has been pilloried by critics as incentivizing terror.

Palestinian leaders have long defended the payments, describing them as a form of social welfare and necessary compensation for victims of Israel’s military justice system in the West Bank.

According to a Times of Israel report from last March, Ramallah may have paid as much as NIS 600 million ($181 million) in 2020 in stipends to Palestinians imprisoned by Israel for security offenses — including terrorism — and their families.

Israel’s new government, widely regarded as its most right-wing ever, has vowed to crack down on Palestinian terrorism and isolate the PA, which many of its lawmakers consider a terror-inciting body. On Sunday, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said he had “no interest” in the PA continuing to exist.

Last week, the security cabinet approved a series of sanctions against the PA that include seizing tax revenues Israel collects on behalf of the PA and channeling them instead to Israeli victims of Palestinian attacks.

The measures represent a significant departure from the policy of the previous government, which in several ways sought to strengthen the PA, fearing that its collapse would only boost more extreme Palestinian forces such as the Gaza-based Hamas terror group, which has been strengthening its foothold in the West Bank in recent years.

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.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures while speaking to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting on the sidelines of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) summit, in Astana, Kazakhstan, Oct. 13, 2022. (Vyacheslav Prokofyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

In July, 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 incarceration.

Jeremy Sharon and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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