Attempts to nullify the Jewish character of the state can be considered subversive and justify the use of wiretaps, according to the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
"The term 'subversive' is vague," Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin wrote to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz. "In the context of the matters we are dealing with, the Shin Bet's position is that the term 'subversive' can include attempts to change the fundamental values of the state by nullifying its democratic or Jewish character and can be regarded as undermining the arrangements of the democratic regime and its institutions."
Diskin's letter came in response to complaints sent to Mazuz by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, regarding a statement made by the Shin Bet in March.
Diskin had told Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that Israeli Arabs constituted a "strategic threat" to Israel, Ma'ariv reported in March. An Arab journal, Fasal al-Makal, asked the Shin Bet whether the statement was true. In response, the Shin Bet wrote that it regarded itself as responsible for thwarting "subversive activity by elements seeking to harm the character of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state even when this activity is conducted with the tools that democracy provides."
ACRI and Adalah complained to Mazuz about the statement and Mazuz asked the Shin Bet to clarify it. On Sunday, Mazuz sent copies of Diskin's three-page letter of explanation to ACRI and Adalah and said he agreed with Diskin.
"Obviously there is no prohibition against expressing an opinion that contradicts the values of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, so long as it is expressed within the limits of the law," Diskin wrote. "Expressing such an opinion, as long as it does not involve illegal activity, is part of the right to freedom of expression."
When it came to "subversive" organizations as defined by the Shin Bet, Diskin wrote that there were three ways of dealing with them in accordance with their activities: research from public sources; information gathering that violates privacy, such as wiretapping; and prevention and law enforcement.
The Shin Bet can use the full array of methods against "subversive" organizations that break the law, wrote Diskin. When the allegedly subversive activity does not involve breaking the law, the Shin Bet may not apply prevention and law enforcement, but may violate the suspect's privacy by wiretapping and other methods.
"As for activity that is not illegal," Diskin wrote, "when that activity 'rubs up against' injury to the arrangements of the democratic regime and its institutions, it is the Shin Bet's duty to collect and analyze information regarding this activity so as to guarantee that it does not spill over into illegal activity and is not camouflaged to hide illegal activity. When there is a basis for suspecting that there is subversive activity going on that has secret elements, such activity may justify using information- gathering techniques such as wiretapping."
Attorney Dan Yakir, ACRI's legal adviser, told The Jerusalem Post that "the vague and undefined terms included in Diskin's letter granted the Shin Bet a wide opening for operating against legal organizations, especially since there were no effective arrangements for supervising the Shin Bet's conduct."