Last week, the Knesset passed a law, sponsored by Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, that would allow courts to revoke the citizenship of Israelis convicted of treason. “Any normal state would have legislated this bill years ago,” said MK David Rotem (whose name is associated with the notorious bill concerning conversions), shortly after it passed. “There is no citizenship without loyalty.” I propose the courts apply the new law immediately against an obvious offender: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The new law’s fine print defines treason according to sections of the Israeli criminal code that, as Haaretz’s Zvi Barel quickly noticed, include not only treason and espionage, but also far wider, and vaguer, actions: One section, for example, defines as treason “If a person commits an act liable to remove any area from the sovereignty of the State … then he is liable to the death penalty or to life imprisonment.” Section 97, alas, does not make any allowances for areas removed from Israeli sovereignty under the auspices of diplomatic negotiations—which means that Netanyahu, who ceded territory during his first term as prime minister, might want to instruct his lawyers to come up with a criminal defense for much more than the extreme corruption of which he is now accused.
In fact, there are ways around prosecution for the prime minister. But such a cloudy legal situation should worry even those who consider the new law to be commonsensical. Like other bits of political grandstanding recently orchestrated by the Israeli right—the Rotem bill, the loyalty oath, the Nakba bill, etc.—this one, too, imperils Israeli democracy by opening enormous holes without contributing anything of substance to safeguard the lives and well-being of Israelis. With a law already on the books condemning traitors to death or life imprisonment, revoking their citizenship is a laughably mild measure—unless it is seen as a future political tool against Israeli Arabs, leftists, and other undesirables.