Emergency over

In seeking to cast the net of enforcement as wide as possible in order to fight terrorism, the new law could end up being applied in far too many cases, leading to violations of citizens’ rights.

June 18, 2016 22:02
3 minute read.


The omnibus anti-terrorism law passed by the Knesset last week is a laudable attempt to modernize draconian legislation left over from the British Mandate, but the claim by its sponsors that it somehow balances enforcement with the preservation of civil liberties is questionable. In its sweeping inclusion of new categories of supposed terrorist offenses, our legislature might end up violating the time-honored principle of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The law took some six years to be negotiated by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee since it was first proposed in 2010. Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) noted that the bill abrogates 60 British Mandatory emergency statutes, using lessons learned from Israel’s extensive experience in fighting terrorism to replace them.

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“The law that passed today in the plenum shows how to fight terrorism uncompromisingly, while protecting human rights,” he insisted optimistically on Wednesday.

But the usual human rights suspects – Meretz and the Joint List, for example – did not agree, and were not among the 57-16 majority in favor of the legislation.

MK Haneen Zoabi (Joint List) said the law “has one goal: to prevent citizens from criticizing, expressing opinions and starting a grassroots political struggle against the occupation, encouraging boycotts and thinking outside the box.”

Zoabi, with her gift for understatement, added that the measure institutes a “thought police” who could trap someone into being convicted of terrorism for a Facebook post considered to be hostile to the government.

While the law does not need thought police to target charity groups that indirectly contribute to designated terrorist groups, many of their activists can now be sent to prison as guilty by association.

One provision of the law destined to be tested by the High Court of Justice is its authorizing the defense minister to seize personal and groups’ financial assets even before their indictment and conviction, if the assets are deemed related to terrorism. Think of this as the financial equivalent of the controversial administrative detention orders.

The law also provides for deterrent fines against those convicted of providing aid to terrorist groups – up to 20 times the amount they funded – as if true terrorists can be deterred by the threat of losing money, but not by the threat of prison time.

The Knesset is to be praised for finally ending the state of emergency imposed by the British prior to statehood.

The Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, 5708- 1948, adopted by the First Knesset, actually declared that the state of emergency had ceased to exist – but kept its Mandatory provisions intact. It was amended in 1980 to include new categories of terrorism: “Any act manifesting identification or sympathy with a terrorist organization in a public place or in such manner that persons in a public place can see or hear such manifestation of identification or sympathy, either by flying a flag or displaying a symbol or slogan or by causing an anthem or slogan to be heard, or any other similar overt act clearly manifesting such identification or sympathy as aforesaid.”

Under the new law, an individual who carries out such activities could be charged as a supporter of a “terrorist group.” The penalties for such a charge include travel restrictions, asset forfeitures, land expropriation and home confiscation – all without due process – onerous measures not comfortably associated with the only democracy in the Middle East.

The Israel Democracy Institute’s Terror and Democracy Project analyzed the legislation while it was under preparation. The IDI team, headed by vice president Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, found that its fundamental problem was its overly broad definitions of terrorist organizations, acts of terrorism, and membership in terrorist organizations. As a result, it compromises due process and seriously violates the rights of suspects.

In seeking to cast the net of enforcement as wide as possible in order to fight terrorism, the new law could end up being applied in far too many cases, leading to violations of citizens’ rights. The penal code was already sufficient to punish real terrorists, while its newly broadened definition so dilutes the term “terrorism” that it risks missing the point of the legislation.

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