Balance of power tips as new dept. to probe Shin Bet

Analysis: True to the Turkel Commission recommendations, Justice Ministry appoints former head prosecutor of IDF to be first non-Shin Bet agent head of new department created for investigating complaints.

June 6, 2013 05:19
2 minute read.
The Turkel Committee

Turkel Committee. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

Four months after the Turkel Commission recommended it, the Justice Ministry made a dramatic announcement on Wednesday of the appointment of the head of a department it has created for investigating complaints against the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).

The appointment of Col. (res.) Jana Modgavrishvili, a recent former head prosecutor in the IDF’s Military Advocate- General’s Office but never an agent of the Shin Bet, to be the first head of the new department could completely reorder the balance of power between the Shin Bet and the Justice Ministry.

The B’Tselem human rights organization responded to the announcement stating that the state had admitted as early as 2007 that the Shin Bet’s investigations of itself were problematic.

It added that the change in the status quo had “taken too many years” and that the state should “go one step further” by formally placing investigations of the Shin Bet under the authority of its Police Investigation Department.

A B’Tselem spokesman said that since there have been hundreds of complaints and no investigations, the main thing was to “acknowledge that the system has simply not been working.”

In contrast, the ministry’s announcement attempted to play down the impact of the change.

It said that until now, the head of investigations into the Shin Bet was already reporting to the Justice Ministry and not to operational heads of the Shin Bet.

According to the statement, although the head of investigations had always been part of the Shin Bet from an administrative standpoint, this has only been a technical issue, and the investigations head had always had independent authority.

Previously, the statement said, that independent authority had been ensured by appointing a Shin Bet agent for who the position would be there last post before retirement and by placing the investigations head within the chain of command of the Justice Ministry.

The statement went as far to say that the appointment was only being made to avoid “the appearance of impropriety” and to build “public confidence” in the state’s institutions.

All of this was in contrast to the Turkel Commission’s second report, issued in February: A review of the quality of Israel’s internal investigations of complaints against its own institutions.

Although the report overall endorsed Israel’s internal investigations as meeting international law standards, it also slammed the Shin Bet as inadequately investigating itself.

Of 19 recommendations, one of its strongest suggestions was moving investigations of the Shin Bet fully into the Justice Ministry to improve the quality and independence of investigations.

Over the years, many human rights groups have accused the Shin Bet of failing to penalize its agents when they have crossed the line and of failing to properly investigate itself.

A top government legal official familiar with the issue, under condition of anonymity, previously implied that the Justice Ministry had not needed the Turkel Report II to tell it that moving investigations of the Shin Bet into the ministry would improve the situation, and had started a process to do so even before the report was published.

Modgavrishvili will not only be the first head of the new department, but will be the first non-Shin Bet agent investigating the Shin Bet.

At the time that the report came out, there was speculation that a Shin Bet agent would get the appointment.

With Modgavrishvili’s appointment, it appears either that the speculation was incorrect or the final appointment may have been influenced by criticism after reports of the speculation.

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