Last week, an Israeli lawmaker labelled Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of the campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) to counter Israeli violations of Palestinian rights, a threat to Israel’s “universal security.” That is a term of enmity which this writer has not encountered anywhere in the universe so far.
Asking impatiently about the status of Barghouti’s expulsion by the state, Keti Shitrit of Likud pointed out Barghouti’s cardinal sins: that he was working on “every network” to boycott Israel (isn’t that what diligent activists do?), and to “deny the state of Israel”.
You see, Omar Barghouti believes in the model of a secular democratic state, which is of course anathema to the Jewish State construct.
The war on Barghouti
In 2016, then Minister of Transport and Intelligence Israel Katz, proposed “targeted civil eliminations” of BDS leaders. He said this at an anti-BDS conference sponsored by the centrist Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot. At the same event, Minister of Interior Aryeh Deri said that he was seeking ways to revoke Barghouti’s residency. Barghouti married a Palestinian citizen of Israel, and lives under residency status in the city of Acre.
Last year, Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber notified Minister of Interior Deri’s office that it had the authority to revoke Barghouti’s residency. The legal basis: a 2018 amendment to the Citizenship law, listing “breach of loyalty to the state” as a crime which may justify stripping a residency status. Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, points out that the clause was brought in to facilitate the expulsion of four Palestinian parliamentarians from East Jerusalem (a case going back to 2010). The language was brought in after Israel’s Supreme Court deemed the expulsion of the parliamentarians illegal, since it was made on a non-legal principle of “breach of loyalty.” So Israel’s lawmakers put “breach of loyalty” into law.
You would think Israel could apply the loyalty clause to expel Barghouti–on the basis of his political views and fight for freedom, justice and equality.
But Israel is aware that exiling a prominent leader under such draconian measures will backfire. So it appears to be looking around for a “security issue” to get rid of Barghouti. And here it faces a problem: There is none.
Last week, a query was submitted by Likud lawmaker Keti Shitrit during parliamentary plenum, where she asked about the status of the Barghouti expulsion case.
Shitrit referred to the deputy Minister of Interior Yoav Ben Tzur (of the Shas party):
Mr. Deputy Minister, Following the announcement of the Deputy Attorney General, Attorney Dina Zilber, that it is in your authority to revoke the residency of Omar Barghouti, you have instructed … to prepare a legal opinion for yourself. I wanted to ask:
Has a legal opinion been received?
Do you intend to act immediately to cancel Mr. Barghouti’s residency?
Ben Tzur responded:
Since as of this time there is no recommendation by the security apparatus to revoke the citizenship of Mr. Barghouti, there was not required a legal opinion in the case. The Minister of Interior will continue to examine this matter, again, according to the developments in [Barghouti’s] actions, and according to the recommendation of the security apparatus. As may be required, [the Minister of Interior] will act to revoke his residency. The Minister of the Interior has already revoked residency for [those for] whom it was necessary to revoke, but at the moment since there is no security opinion requiring this, at the moment the Minister is not revoking.
We are not speaking about a security violation, we are speaking of a violation of the universal security of the State of Israel. This person is working on every possible network, poses a boycott on Israel, seeks to boycott also the cultural world, also the academic world. This man wants to completely deny the State of Israel. How is it possible that this man continues to be a resident of the state?
We’ll return to that “universal security” claim in a moment. But first, let’s note that Ben Tzur’s response made it clear that this claim couldn’t really fly. Ben Tzur:
Revoking of residency has rules and regulations. The Minister works according to these rules and mostly according to a security assessment.
This is a precious discussion. Shitrit’s desperate call is in its essence calling for a kind of extrajudicial elimination – like Katz’s “targeted civil elimination”. She wants it to be “civil”, but since her call cannot be backed by an actual security claim, she coins a new concept: “universal security”.
States don’t have universal security, since by definition they do not control the universe, only their own territory. A state cannot guard itself against everything – especially not against democratic, non-violent political expression. To do so, would be a clear sign of fascism.
Ben Tzur’s response also shows that Israel needs a security pretext to counter Barghouti’s activism, but that it doesn’t have it. It is not letting him go as such – it is actively waiting for such a pretext to arrive. The new clause in the Citizenship Law concerning “loyalty” could ostensibly be applied, but it would appear that applying it would also expose Israel’s totalitarian nature.
Such a conundrum is reminiscent of the one manifested in the extrajudicial assassination of Palestinian suspect Abdel Fatah al Sharif on the street in Hebron by soldier-medic Elor Azarya in 2016. Although the practice was regular, performed “tons of times” according to Azarya’s comrades and advocated by security and political leaders at the time, the murder presented a PR problem, since it was caught on tape. Thus, Azarya had to have “erred”, and received a symbolic punishment which eventually ended up as a 9-month prison term, from which he returned a hero, a victim of political correctness as it were.
Israel wants to ‘eliminate’ Omar Barghouti, but it doesn’t want his removal to become a negative PR issue, because countering bad PR is, after all, the point of the whole campaign against Barghouti.
When a state tries to get “universal security”, it really means that it wishes to appropriate to itself an immunity that it would deny others. On Monday, Likud lawmaker Avi Dichter (former head of internal security agency Shabak) submitted a law proposal whereby Israeli security officials would be provided what he termed “sovereign defense” for the International Criminal Court, if arrest warrants were issued against them. Dichter appears to be taking the cue from the United States, which has issued its own campaign of harassment against the ICC, through an executive order authorizing sanctions against those who cooperate with the ICC.
International law appears to be great when it doesn’t hit back at you. Because under international law everyone is equal. But then some are more equal than others, and they need “universal security”.
Many thanks to Tali Shapiro, Ofer Neiman