Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was stripped of his U.S. citizenship earlier this month because he is a member of the Israeli parliament, has sued the State Department over the issue and now faces the related problem of whether he can enter the United States Thursday without a visa to appear in court.
Kahane intends to show his U.S. passport at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, according to American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Charles Sims, who filed the suit for Kahane. "He's an American citizen and American citizens don't need visas," Sims said.
But Kahane will not be allowed into the United States without a visa, said State Department spokesman Dan Lawler. "Someone who loses his citizenship is in the same boat as any foreign citizen who comes to the U.S.," said Lawler, adding that in such cases the State Department notifies the airline and "the fight will be between him and the airline."
Kahane's suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, contends that the federal government does not have authority to strip those born in the United States of their citizenship without their consent, even if they hold dual citizenship or positions in foreign governments.
Kahane "expatriated himself" by accepting a seat in the Israeli Knesset on Aug. 13, 1984, according to a "certificate of loss of nationality" that Kahane received earlier this month from the government. The certificate was issued by the U.S. consulate in Israel, Sims said.
Kahane, 42, was born in Brooklyn and moved to Israel 16 years ago. The founder of the militant Jewish Defense League, he won his seat in the Knesset on a platform of expelling all Arabs from Israel and Israeli-held territories. "Israelis don't like Kahane," said Sims. "Arabs detest Kahane. So this is a way of placating the Arabs without losing anything."
Kahane's suit relies on a 1980 Supreme Court ruling in Vance v. Terrazas that the government must prove "specific intent" to give up U.S. citizenship. Kahane told the State Department after accepting his seat in the Knesset that he did not intend to give up his citizenship, Sims said.
Lawler said the government's action was based on a provision in the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act that lists service to a foreign government as grounds for losing U.S. citizenship. "The basic point is that if someone commits an expatriating act, they lose their American citizenship," Lawler said.
U.S. District Court Judge Leo Glasser is scheduled to hear arguments Friday in Brooklyn on a motion for a temporary stay of the government's action in order to allow Kahane to enter the United States on his passport while the court considers the suit, which was filed last Friday.
Kahane, in an effort to attend the proceedings in his case this week, had asked the U.S. consulate in Israel for a "certificate of identity" that would permit him to be considered for admission into the United States upon his arrival at the airport. U.S. officials, however, told him that he would have to surrender his passport, which he refuses to do, in order to obtain the certificate.