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Knesset Approval of Extradition Bill Hit by Former Justice Minister

The Knesset approved a measure yesterday that would forbid the extradition of an Israeli citizen for crimes committed abroad. The legislation, which provides for trial in Israel of such persons, passed its first reading and was referred to the Law Committee. But it encountered strong opposition from former Justice Minister Haim Zadok of the Labor Alignment, who said the proposed law would turn Israel into an asylum for Jewish criminals.

The amendment to the extradition law, introduced for the government by Yoram Aridor of Likud, was originally proposed by Premier Menachem Begin when he was leader of the opposition in the last Knesset. It would have Israel repudiate the extradition treaties it now has with many countries. Aridor replied to Zadok’s objections by stressing that Israel would try citizens accused of offenses by a foreign power. But Zadok observed that “We can try the man here but it would not prevent him from coming to Israel.” He said the law would encourage Jews with criminal records to immigrate to Israel.

“A Jewish criminal will always prefer to immigrate to Israel, receive citizenship by power of the Law of Return and become immune to extradition,” Zadok said. He proposed that the law draw a distinction between a suspect who was a citizen of Israel before he committed an offense abroad and a non-citizen who sought refuge from legal prosecution in Israel. Aridor insisted that the State could not make any distinction between the two kinds of citizens.

The measure is expected to be returned to the plenum for its second and third readings shortly. Its progress is being followed with great interest by Samuel Flatto-Sharon, a one-man Knesset faction, who faces possible extradition to France. Flatto, a millionaire businessman, fled to Israel in 1972 and became a citizen. He was elected to the Knesset on May 17 but France’s extradition request on charges of tax evasion and fraud is still being processed by Israeli courts.

Although the law provides immunity for an MK, there are circumstances under which a Knesset member could be extradited and Flatto apparently would feel safer if the government-sponsored amendment is adopted. Since entering the Knesset he has usually added his single vote to Likud’s narrow coalition majority.

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