Israeli law provides the tools to declare the northern branch of the Islamic Movement an illegal organization and put Sheikh Raed Salah on trial for being its leader. The question is whether such a move would be upheld by the High Court of Justice.
There are two laws that allow the government to declare an organization illegal. The first is the 1945 Emergency Defense Regulations which deals with prohibited organizations. The second is the 1948 Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, which empowers the government to classify an organization as a terrorist group.
In the case of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, it would be difficult to apply the latter law since no one is accusing it of being a terrorist organization.
Even after Salah, together with four other members of the movement, was arrested in 2003 on charges that included supporting and holding membership in a terrorist organization, this and other serious charges were dropped in a plea bargain.
The northern branch has not been caught in acts of terrorism per se and it would be difficult, if not impossible, to convince the High Court that it is a terrorist movement.
The law against illegal organizations, on the other hand, is more loosely defined. It states that such an organization is one that calls for any one of the following: destroying the constitution or the government of Israel using force or violence; fomenting the humiliation or inciting to hatred against the government or its ministers; destroying or damaging government property; perpetrating acts of terrorism.
In addition, a prohibited organization is any organization so declared by the Minister of Defense. Anyone convicted of belonging to such a group faces a jail sentence of up to 10 years.
Nevertheless, two constitutional experts, Suzie Navot of the Academic Campus of the College of Administration, and Menahem Hoffnung of Hebrew University told The Jerusalem Post it would not be a simple matter to enforce such a declaration because of the High Court's strong position in defense of freedom of speech.
Hoffnung added that since the enactment of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, the courts have used this as the standard for judging infringements on the fundamental human right of free speech.
He added that even if the government could persuade the court to uphold such a declaration, it would first have to decide whether this was the right move to make. Declaring the northern Islamic Movement illegal would likely push it into a corner, force it to go underground and become more violent, said Hoffnung. As long as the organization operates in the open, it is easier for security forces to keep an eye on its activities.
"The government should ask the Shin Bet what it thinks is the best course before deciding what to do," he advised.
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