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August 31, 2014 / 5 Elul, 5774
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Will Israel Ever Get Serious About Treason?


Steven Plaut

Steven Plaut

Earlier this year Israel passed a law that would strip Israelis of their citizenship if convicted of espionage or treason. Condemned for this by countries all over the world, almost all of whom have far harsher anti-treason laws than Israel, the Israeli government has yet to apply the law to anyone.

Sometimes called the “Azmi Bishara Law,” it was motivated by the fact that an Arab member of the Israeli parliament, Azmi Bishara, from one of the Arab parties, had openly engaged in espionage and treason, including passing on intelligence to the Hizbullah terrorist organization while it was firing rockets at Israeli civilians. Bishara is now in hiding and has yet to be prosecuted.

The Anti-Israel Lobby denounced this law as “racist,” just as it denounces everything Israel does as racist (including rescuing Haitian earthquake victims). The bleating from Bash-Israel NGO groups about supposed Israeli “apartheid” sound particularly absurd when one realizes that Israel is one of the few democracies that has not utilized mass internment of hostile minority populations that identify and, in some cases, collaborate with the enemy in time of war. And Israel has yet to charge any of its extreme leftists with treason, no matter how brazen their words and deeds.

Treason itself is left undefined under Israeli law, and in general it has been interpreted by legal authorities in Israel so loosely that virtually no one has ever been prosecuted for it.

On paper Israeli penal law defines treason as “acts that impair the integrity of Israel” or “impair its sovereignty,” and the granting of assistance to the enemy during time of war. Based on British law, Article 99(a) of the Israel Criminal Code states, “If a person with intent to assist an enemy in war against Israel commits an act calculated to do so, he is liable to the death penalty or to life imprisonment.”

It should go without saying that no one has ever been sentenced to either punishment for treason in Israel. Only a few people engaged in actual espionage – including nuclear spy Mordecai Vanunu and some old-time spies for the former Soviet Union – have ever even been charged with treason.

The Israeli law against treason is little more than a joke. Nearly all the Arabs who sit in the Knesset openly communicate and even collaborate with the enemies of Israel. They support their agendas and some have engaged in violence.

There are far left Israeli Jews who work against the sovereignty and integrity of their own country every day. Examples of this would include issuing calls for Israel’s destruction or declaring support for international boycotts against Israel. No one has been prosecuted for any of that.

The Israeli attorney general is quite militant when it comes to prosecuting right-wing Israeli Jews for “incitement” and “racism,” including offenders who wear politically incorrect t-shirts or affix bumper stickers on their cars that some might find in poor taste.

Bear in mind that Israel is in a permanent state of war. Even so, Israeli Arabs and Jewish leftists never go to jail for collaborating with the enemy during times of war.

It is instructive and illuminating to examine the history of what other Western democracies have done with traitors, especially during times of war.

Many countries have the death penalty for domestic traitors; some of these anti-treason laws are quite old. Several countries have been putting teeth into old anti-treason laws recently because of international terrorism.

Britain’s Treason Act, which allowed for the prosecution of British nationals supporting the enemy in time of war, went back to 1351. One famous application of the act was the trial of Roger Casement, who was accused of collaborating with Germany during World War I. There was debate during the trial over whether the act applied to treason committed outside Britain or only on British soil. The prosecution carried the day and the traitor was executed.

Because of court arguments over the punctuation in the act’s original language, it was said that Casement was “hanged by a comma.”

The act was also used to prosecute “Lord Haw-Haw,” William Joyce, in 1945. Joyce had served as Hitler’s radio propagandist, beaming pro-Nazi messages into Britain during the war.

Churchill’s Britain banned not only fascist newspapers and organizations during World War II but also the communist newspaper The Daily Worker.

The British Treason Act provided for mandatory execution of traitors. It distinguished between high treason and petty treason. In both cases, the traitor was executed, but in the latter cases his property was not seized by the Crown. Britain executed sixteen traitors under the Act during World War II.

The act was suspended in 1946 and later repealed. However, Britain has other laws against treason. Under the British Crime and Disorder Act of 1998, the punishment for treason is life imprisonment (it had been death up until that law was passed).

Canada also has a treason act. It distinguishes between high treason and other forms, with high treason consisting of acts committed during time of war. The punishment is mandatory life imprisonment.

Australia has a somewhat similar treason law. Turkey, Ireland and Brazil have treason acts that provide for execution of traitors, as do many Third World countries.

The United States has had anti-treason laws that allow for execution of traitors, though these were seldom applied, and similar laws were once passed by some individual states. The U.S. also has the Espionage Act of 1917.

French law provides for life imprisonment for treason, as do statutes in Hong Kong, India and New Zealand.

Switzerland’s treason act usually provides for softer punishments, but in some cases life imprisonment is a possibility.

Germany also has an anti-treason law with punishments up to life imprisonment for high treason, defined as attempts to overturn the constitutional order.

Execution and life imprisonment were not the only responses of Western democracies to internal treason. In 1939 the British government under Winston Churchill passed Defense Regulation 18B. It suspended habeas corpus for Nazi sympathizers and allowed for their wholesale internment without trial. While enemy aliens were interned under other laws, this law was used to intern British nationals.

The law’s provisions for such arrests were very loose. They included any suspicion that a person represented a danger to Britain or was a member of any association hostile to Britain or involved in “acts prejudicial to the public safety or the defense of the realm or in the preparation or instigation of such acts.”

People could be arrested without warning, including those serving in the British military. About a thousand were so interned in 1940, though that number was halved by mid-1943. The law was used to jail pro-German British citizens, including members of the pro-Nazi British Union of Fascists party, led by Oswald Mosley. Mosley was arrested in 1940, along with his wife, and held in Holloway Prison. In a controversial move, Churchill released him in November 1943 due to health problems. Churchill famously ordered the arrest of George Pitt-Rivers, another British Nazi sympathizer.

The United States passed its first law against enemy aliens and against treason in the Alien and Sedition Act of 1798. It allowed for the internment of enemy aliens in time of war. Among those indicted under it was an American congressman born in Ireland, Matthew Lyon. It remained on the books, supplemented by the Sedition Act of 1918, an initiative of President Woodrow Wilson, which was later repealed.

Abraham Lincoln may have been the most aggressive president when it came to prosecuting and jailing traitors. He ordered the suspension of habeas corpus in 1861. He used military tribunals and declarations of martial law liberally. More than 4,200 trials by military commission were conducted.

“Copperheads” or Americans in the North who identified with the rebellion in the South were arrested and jailed. One of the more famous was Clement Laird Vallandigham, who was deported. Other Copperheads were also deported and stripped of citizenship. Some traitors were executed. As many as 13,000 people in the North were rounded up and jailed under martial law. The Union government took action against newspapers that identified with the rebellion, closing some. Those expressing opposition to military conscription in the North were subject to martial law penalties. Under the Confiscation Act of 1861, the private property of those – not only Southerners – accused of treason could be seized.

While all belligerents in World War II took action against enemy aliens and domestic supporters of the enemy, Britain under Churchill was particularly uncompromising in this area.

There had been about 20,000 German nationals in Britain in 1930, but this number grew by about 60,000 after Hitler came to power. At the start of the war these came under scrutiny and surveillance, even though some of them were Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria. All Germans and Austrians over the age of 16 were called before special tribunals and divided into three groups:

• “High security risks,” who were immediately interned. About 600 fell under this category.

• “Doubtful cases,” who were subject to supervision and restrictions on their movements. There were around 6,500 of these.

• “No security risk,” numbering around 64,000, who were not restricted. Most of these were Jewish refugees from Nazi oppression.

Britain had historically made liberal use of internment as an instrument against the enemy, especially during the Boer Wars. The British intensified their operations against potential spies after 1940, arresting Germans, Austrians and Italians in larger numbers.

On May 12, 1940, more than 2,000 male aliens living in British coastal areas were arrested under special orders of the Home Secretary. The Treachery Act passed Parliament that same year and allowed for the prosecution of any alien suspected of espionage or hostile activity, and included provision for execution of foreign spies.

Churchill ordered that all 19,000 Italians in Britain be rounded up, even those who had lived in the UK for decades. Internment camps for these enemy nationals were set up around Britain, including at Huyton near Liverpool and in large camps on the Isle of Man. In addition, over 7,000 suspect aliens were deported, mainly to Canada and Australia. Tragically, in some cases these included non-British Jews, for fears that German spies might infiltrate Britain while among them.

Canada interned 80,000 people during World War I. While the massive internment of Japanese-Americans by the United States during World War II is well known, less well known is the fact that thousands of ethnic Japanese were interned by the Canadian government.

Australia also ran internment camps, holding as many as 7,000 Australians, plus thousands of aliens sent there by Britain.

While their numbers were much smaller than those of the interned Japanese-Americans, hundreds of Italian-Americans were interned by the U.S. during World War II, and other restrictions were applied to Italian-Americans who were not interned.

German-Americans were subject to restrictions during World War I; over 6,000 were arrested and more than 2,000 were interned. Some 11,000 alien Germans were interned in the United States during World War II.

Surprisingly, given the pro-Nazi sentiments found among some American ethnic Germans and the operation in the U.S. of several pro-Nazi organizations in the 1930s, German-Americans were not interned during World War II, though some other countries in the Western Hemisphere did intern domestic ethnic Germans. Small numbers of ethnic Germans were evicted from sensitive coastal areas of the U.S. After Pearl Harbor the U.S. outlawed the pro-Nazi German American Bund.

Throughout Europe before and during World War II, the ethnic German minority populations by and large supported Nazi Germany. After the war, these Germans were expelled en masse by many of those countries, including democratic Czechoslovakia, in retaliation for their having identified with the enemy.

The irony is that Israel’s Arab population more openly identifies with the country’s enemies than did any of the groups interned during World War II by Britain and the other Western democracies. Israeli Arabs on the whole make little attempt to hide their intense hatred for the democratic country in which they live, though they rarely seek to move to any of the 22 countries that have an Arab ethnic majority.

Most (but not all) Israeli Arabs support political parties and groups that are hostile to the existence of Israel and that openly back genocidal terrorist groups and Muslim countries that seek Israel’s obliteration.

Israeli far-leftist groups, awash in funding from hostile anti-Israel foreign governments and organizations, engage in sedition and treason during time of war, led by Israel’s academic tenured Far Left. None of these have been targeted for prosecution by Israel’s legal system or police.
Why not? Why can Taliban John and Jihad Jane be prosecuted in the U.S. while traitors in Israel enjoy immunity?

About the Author: Steven Plaut is a professor at the University of Haifa. He can be contacted at steveneplaut@yahoo.com.


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