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Israeli Interior Ministry launches proceeding to strip Azmi Bechara of citizenship

Nov 21, 2008

Israeli Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit launched proceedings on Friday to revoke the citizenship of Arab former MP Azmi Bechara, who fled Israel last year amid claims he had spied for Hezbollah, a ministry spokesman said.
The move came less than three months after the Israeli High Court rejected a previous bid to strip Bechara of both his nationality and his parliamentary pension.
“The minister asked in a letter addressed to (internal security service) Shin Beth chief Yuval Diskin and Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to give their advice on the case as soon as possible,” the spokesman said.
In his letter, Sheetrit said the move was necessary as Bechara had “visited enemy states, assisted the enemy in exchange for money and had contacts with the Lebanese terror organisation Hezbollah.”
On September 1, the High Court rejected a petition filed by Danny Danon, a senior member of the rightwing opposition Likud party, for Bechara to be stripped of his nationality and pension rights for "treason."
The court argued it had no legal standing to revoke Bechara's citizenship or to block his pension benefits.
In June, the Israeli parliament endorsed in a preliminary vote a bill that would make it possible to revoke the nationality of any MP “suspected of harming state security,” sparking outrage among the 10 MPs from Arab-led parties who described the bill as “racist.”
But the draft legislation still has to pass three more votes before it becomes law.
Bechara, who headed the small National Democratic Assembly (Balad) party, fled Israel in April 2007 amid allegations he advised Hezbollah and directed its rocket fire against Israel during the July War in 2006.
Bechara has repeatedly denied spying for Hezbollah and has highlighted his criticism of the group during the war for rocketing Arab villages inside Israel.
He has accused the Israeli authorities of conducting a witchhunt against him because of his virulent criticism of their policies.
Before leaving Israel, Bechara had campaigned vigorously for the rights of the 1.4 million-strong Arab minority who account for 20 percent of Israel's population and are descended from those who remained in Israel after the 1948 war.
In 2006, the Israeli High Court threw out legal proceedings against him for backing "popular resistance" against Israel while on a visit to Syria in June 2001, ruling that his statement was not an incitement to violence.
In April 2003, another court dismissed charges against him for organising "illegal" trips to Syria, given his then parliamentary immunity.

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