A right-wing member of the Knesset called for revoking the citizenship of Hagai El-Ad, the director of Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, in response to El-Ad’s recent criticism of Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territory in front of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2, MK David Bitan, who serves as the Knesset’s coalition chair and as the whip for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, said: “I examined whether, legally speaking, if I can ask the interior minister to revoke the citizenship of B’Tselem’s executive director.”
“I checked, and there’s no legal avenue for doing so today,” Bitan continued, “but we must strip his citizenship.”
Referring to El-Ad’s appearance at a special meeting at the UNSC, where he slammed numerous Israeli policies in the occupied West Bank, particularly illegal settlement building, Bitan called El-Ad’s actions a “blatant breach of trust by an Israeli citizen to the state,” adding that “as such, he should find another nationality.”
In response to Bitan’s comments, B’Tselem released a statement saying that “for nearly 50 years Palestinians have not had citizenship or rights. Now the coalition chairman, the messenger of the Prime Minister, wants to cancel the citizenship of those who speak out against this reality.”
The statement added that the MK’s threats would not deter B’Tselem’s work, nor the “hundreds of thousands of Israelis who oppose the occupation.”
According to Israel National News, MK Zehava Galon of the left-wing Meretz party condemned Bitan’s comments, calling them “dangerous”. He added that “in a democratic country, citizenship is a basic right. It is not a gift granted to those who are favourable in the eyes of the chairman of the coalition.”
In his speech to the UNSC, El-Ad highlighted that 2016 has been the worst year on record for the demolition of Palestinian homes, saying that “Israel has systematically legalised human rights violations in the occupied territories through the establishment of permanent settlements, punitive home demolitions, a biased building and planning mechanism, taking over Palestinian land and much, much more.”
Following El-Ad’s speech, Netanyahu accused the group of “denying Jews our rights, spreading lies, and distorting history to recognise and condemn the actual barriers to peace,” and said he would act to prohibit national service volunteers from working with B’Tselem. However, the group was only ever allotted one such volunteer, and said that the position was not currently filled by anyone.
Despite Netanyahu’s verbal assault on B’Tselem, the US came out in defence of the group, saying it was “troubled” by the attacks on the human rights organisation, and that the US administration values the information published by the group about the situation in the West Bank.
While the some 196 Israeli settlements in the occupied territory are considered illegal under international law, Netanyahu went on to say that the UN’s stance against settlements “only makes sense if you ignore thousands of years of Jewish history” and if “you accept the anti-Semitic Palestinian demand for a state free of Jews as somehow essential for peace.”