This morning, the Interior Minister announced plans to strip suspected terrorists of their citizenship. Under the proposal, persons whose conduct is deemed “seriously prejudicial to the vital interest” of the state could have their citizenship revoked, even if this would leave them stateless, and crucially, even if they have not been convicted of terrorist offences but are merely suspects. The plan has been slammed as “unjust” by civil liberties groups for allowing the government to “punish potential innocent political dissenters without charge or trial”.
This announcement was not, of course, made by the Israeli Interior Minister, but by his UK counterpart: Theresa May, the British Home Secretary. The last-minute amendment tabled to the Immigration Bill was justified by Conservative Immigration Minister Mark Harper on the grounds that “citizenship is a privilege, not a right“. The Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister insists that this ripping up of passports without due process will apply in only a handful of cases.
If Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s Foreign Minister, has a free half hour later today, he would do well to summon the UK Ambassador for a meeting over tea and biscuits to discuss his concerns about the British Government’s feckless approach to the rule of law, and ask Mr Gould to communicate a lesson or two about civil liberties to the “mother of parliaments” from the Jewish state.
Lieberman should remind the British Ambassador that Israel’s controversial 2011 amendment to the 1952 Citizenship Law allows courts to strip Israeli citizenship from people only once they have been convicted of terrorism offences: not even Yisrael Beiteinu is so disdainful of the courts that it would take such dramatic steps without due process. Lieberman should express his outrage at Britain’s plan to make people stateless so that it may deport them: the Israeli law does indeed allow for people to be made stateless, but only if they are simultaneously granted residency status – and not in order to facilitate their deportation.
With a wry smile, Lieberman could also express his admiration that the British Government agrees with him that “any person who harms the country cannot enjoy the benefits of citizenship and its fruit“, and that it is appropriate to “confront the phenomenon by which there are those who take advantage of our democracy in order to undermine it, and by which those who are called citizens collaborate with the enemy”.
Britain has recently taken leave of its senses: having authored the European Convention on Human Rights, it is now also legislating to circumvent the court established by that Convention so that it can deport people whom it believes “don’t have a right to be here and should be facing trial overseas or should be deported overseas”, even though the European Court of Human Rights decides otherwise.
This is an alarming development, not least because it undermines the ability of the British Government to exercise any sort of moral high ground when lecturing and hectoring other countries on their human rights records. It means that when Britain talks down other countries for trying to circumvent due process, it will struggle to do so with a straight face, and will be laughed at. Nobody denies that states need robust measures to deal with terrorism: but leaving people stateless without due process is a move that even the “hardline” Yisrael Beiteinu (in the BBC’s words, no less) would not seriously contemplate. Now the British Conservative Party, with the support of the Liberal Democrats as their junior coalition partners, consider the rule of law to an unnecessary burden.
Theresa May has crossed a red line. Israel has a duty, as a friend of the United Kingdom, to remind the British Government that the rule of law is sacred. It would, at minimum, be an interesting reversal of fortunes.