Border police check a Palestinian driver on a road outside the Palestinian neighbourhood of Jabel Mukabaer in East Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
Coalition and opposition lawmakers called for changes to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan’s bill to expand the meaning of probable cause for searching a suspect’s person for weapons at a Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee meeting Wednesday.
The existing law allows police officers to search a person’s body, clothing and items he or she is carrying if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person is carrying a weapon – which essentially means the police officer had to see something he or she thought could be a weapon in order to conduct the search.
If the bill passes three votes in the Knesset, police officers will be permitted to search anyone in a place prone to violence – such as “clubs, pubs and discotheques and other places meant for recreation in which alcoholic drinks are sold” – or a place temporarily declared by police as one where searches may be conducted, if they have reason to think the person may use a weapon. For example, if someone is brawling or spoke threateningly – without a visual clue that the person may be carrying a weapon – that person could be searched and evidence found would be admissible in court.
The bill is identical to a government proposal from 2010 that was meant to deal with violence in nightclubs and did not make it through the Knesset, except that it adds the suspicion of terrorism and not just of criminal activity to the reasons a police officer could search someone or declare a zone in which searches are permitted.
The bill applies only to searches for weapons and not drugs or anything else, so as to lessen privacy violations.
The Constitution Committee’s legal adviser called to moderate the bill by allowing only police to search when there is a reasonable suspicion that the person would commit an act of violence, and by having the police commissioner set guidelines for searches.
Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) said the law violates citizens’ privacy too much.
“There are two principles: personal security, and individual rights. Normally, these two can live together. The current text of the bill disproportionately harms the right to privacy. This committee will find the golden path to combine both,” he said.
Erdan, however, said that the Israel Police has less authority than police in other Western countries, while having to deal with complex challenges, and that the bill would help deal with the current spate of stabbings.
The Public Security minister also reassured the MKs that any police officer who abuses the law will be put on trial.
A police representative said officers are often “frustrated from our lack of authority” and that there have been cases in which they wanted to search someone’s person, but couldn’t, and a murder resulted.
MK Haim Jelin (Yesh Atid) said that, growing up in Argentina, the police would discriminate against white people, and he is concerned that this bill will be used to mistreat Arabs and citizens of Ethiopian origin.
“We should beat up anyone who raises a knife, but my feeling is that this gives the police political tools and not authority to enforce the law,” he stated.
“When there’s no definition in the law of a suspicion, among the people at this table, I and MK [Osama] Saadi [(Joint List)] are the ones who would be searched,” MK Youssef Jabareen (Joint List) said. “I’ve already been asked where I’m from, and when I said Taibe, I was asked to show ID. And when I said from Upper Nazareth [a city that is not predominately Arab], I was allowed to keep going.”
MK Revital Swid (Zionist Union) pointed out that this is a bill from 2008 that subsequent governments never managed to pass, and accused Erdan of taking advantage of the current wave of terrorism to push it through.
“Don’t mislead the public, this isn’t a war on terrorism,” she said.
MK Uri Maklev (UTJ) also said Erdan is “using the name of the war on terrorism in vain” and that the bill is likely to be abused.
MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) expressed concern that Israel would be viewed as less democratic in the eyes of the world if the law passes.