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Israel moves to revoke citizenship of Palestinian thinker Azmi Bishara

Palestinians rallied behind Bishara after he resigned from Israel's Knesset. [Getty]

Date of publication: 31 July, 2017

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Israel's interior minister on Sunday said he was seeking to strip Azmi Bishara of his Israeli citizenship
Israel's interior minister is seeking to revoke the citizenship of Azmi Bishara, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and a former politician, over his activism.

Bishara, who was born in Nazareth, founded the Balad party in 1995, a movement which advocates for the rights of Palestinian citizens and greater democratic freedoms in Israel.

The public intellectual and former MP resigned from parliament and left Israel in 2007 after police alleged he provided information to Hizballah during Israel's 2006 deadly military offensive on Lebanon.

Bishara has long denied the allegations and says he will not return to Israel as he believes he will not receive a fair trial.

He currently resides in Qatar, leading the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, a think tank.

In a letter to Israel's Attorney General on Sunday, interior minister Aryeh Deri - a founding member of Israel's ultra-Orthodox Shas party - sought a legal opinion on whether the ministry had the power to revoke his citizenship.

"In light of the suspicions [against Bishara], it appears the required conditions are in place for me to exercise the authority given to me to cancel [his] citizenship," he wrote.

  Read some of Azmi Bishara's commentary for The New Arab

- Israel: Normalising the abnormal
- The crisis of political Islam
- To counter terrorism, defeat tyranny
- Why did this round of democratic transition fail?
- Differences over fundamental values invalidate political debate

The move is being considered under a 2011 law passed by Israel's parliament to revoke citizenship for acts defined as espionage or terrorism.

Targeting the Palestinian minority

The controversial bill originated in the election campaign "No loyalty, no citizenship" slogan touted by hard-line defence minister Avigdor Lieberman's right-wing Israel Beiteinu party.

The law is widely viewed by human rights groups as deliberately targeting Palestinian citizens of Israel, particularly as a means to suppress political activity.

Israel's internal security service, the Shin Bet, opposed the law when it was passed.

"Members of [the] Knesset who voted in support of the law have lost sight of a basic concept in democracy: That citizenship is neither a privilege nor a prize but rather a protected right," Israeli rights group ACRI said after the bill passed.

"It wishes to deliver a humiliating and discriminatory message, according to which the citizenship of Israel's Arab citizens is not self-evident but conditioned."

The 2011 citizenship bill was part of a raft of discriminatory and anti-democratic laws passed by Israel's parliament that year.

Other bills included the Admissions Committees Law, which allows Jewish residents to reject Palestinians from residing in their neighbourhoods, and the Nakba Law, which denies state funding to organisations which commemorate the mass expulsion of Palestinians in 1948.

That year, Israel also moved to target the foreign funding of NGOs critical of Israel's occupation, a move widely condemned both within Israel and internationally.

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