British-born Jews are being told that they are “second class” citizens in an extraordinary letter written by a critic of the government decision to revoke citizenship from a number of Muslims now living in Syria, Iraq and other war zones. Jewish historian and academic Professor Geoffrey Alderman says that since every British Jew is eligible to apply for Israeli citizenship, it also means that their rights as UK citizens have been “radically eroded”.
Alderman made his comments after the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) dismissed the appeal by so-called Daesh child bride Shamima Begum against the government’s decision to revoke her UK citizenship. The 20 year old, who left her East London home five years ago after being groomed to marry a Daesh fighter, is currently living in a tent in Al-Roj in north-east Syria.
“This [SIAC] outcome must be of concern to all British-born Jews,” wrote the Buckingham University professor in this week’s Jewish News. “The right of virtually anyone born in the UK to acquire British citizenship automatically has been radically eroded. The Secretary of State may now deprive anyone of British citizenship if they think they were responsible for acts seriously prejudicial to the national interest, and if they are further satisfied deprivation of British citizenship would not render the person stateless.”
Begum told journalists this week that her “whole world fell apart” when she discovered that she had been stripped of her British citizenship, having hoped for more lenient treatment. Although she had only ever lived in Britain before travelling to Syria to join the so-called Islamic State, the court held that she was eligible to apply for citizenship in Bangladesh, the birth country of her parents.
British security sources have argued that Begum represents a security risk, claiming that she was a member of the Daesh “morality police”, Al-Hisba, and that she carried a Kalashnikov and had a reputation for strictness. There are also claims that she allegedly helped sew suicide bombers into explosive vests.
London-born Begum is one of around 4,000 foreign women from more than 50 countries living in refugee camps under the control of Syrian Kurds. When she first re-emerged, she was heavily pregnant but her baby boy, Jarrah, died a few days after the birth. He was the third child that she has lost.
However, it now seems that the notorious child bride may have found support from an unlikely source in Professor Alderman, a committed Zionist, political adviser and supporter of Israel. “If she has committed a crime then bring her back and put her on trial instead of stripping her of citizenship,” he told me when we discussed the content of his letter.
The UK government insists that as Begum is eligible to apply for Bangladeshi citizenship, it is wrong to say that stripping her of British rights will leave her stateless. There is no guarantee that the authorities in Dhaka will grant her citizenship, though.
“Every Jew here is eligible to apply for Israeli citizenship,” wrote Alderman. “This SIAC decision will put in jeopardy the UK citizenship birthright of British-born Jews, who must now accept [that] their UK citizenship is second-class.”
He insists that if the British government believes that Begum has committed crimes in Syria, then she must be brought back to Britain to stand trial. “Ms Begum left the UK voluntarily to join Islamic State in Syria. For all our sakes, her status as a UK national must be upheld.”
If the government ignores such pleas, then the citizenship of anyone and everyone whose parents or grandparents were born overseas is at risk of being taken away. Using Geoffrey Alderman’s well-argued logic, therefore, millions of Britons are, thanks to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission decision about Shamima Begum, now second-class citizens. In the week that Home Secretary Priti Patel has slammed the immigration door, paving the way for yet more racist hatred in this country, what happens to Begum could have serious ramifications for us all.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.