The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee (FADC) on Monday unanimously approved continuing a program in which soldiers are “loaned” to work with the Mossad, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and in civil education, but only after pressing defense officials to update and reform the program.
The vote came days after the same committee approved an extension of soldiers serving in the Prisons Service (IPS) and the police, but only for one year in order to push for greater scrutiny, as opposed to the three years the defense establishment had requested.
With Meretz MK Michal Rozin chairing the hearing on soldiers in the Mossad and the Shin Bet in place of regular chairman Ram Ben Barak (Yesh Atid), Defense Ministry legal adviser Eran Yosef and IDF Brig.-Gen. Amir Vadmani took more of a rhetorical beating than they were used to; they openly showed displeasure with their treatment by the FADC.
However, their annoyance at being more closely interrogated than usual about the programs did not slow down Rozin, who said pointedly, “You missed what happened in recent weeks, not just regarding the female prison guards.” Deeper questions were raised about whether it makes sense for young and vulnerable soldiers to be serving in so many frameworks outside of the military.
Yosef and Vadmani responded that the current setup with the Mossad and Shin Bet has a long-standing tradition of 18 years, adding that it was recently scrutinized to reduce the number of the soldiers in the program.
They said following this reduction, those soldiers still in the program are badly needed.
Rozin responded, “If you tell me everything is perfect, I will never buy it,” and she demanded to know where they would admit they needed to improve if they wanted her support.
Yesh Atid MK Nira Shpak repeatedly cut off Yosef and Vadmani, framing their answers as generic and as not taking seriously the FADC’s role to provide oversight.
Following the Gilboa Prison “pimping affair,” Shpak said she wanted fewer overlaps and potential “friction points” between the IDF and other organizations across the board.
Questioned about the makeup of the current law that went into effect 18 years ago, Justice Ministry official Dror Granot responded that it related to the aftermath of the Basic Laws process of the mid- to late 1990s.
Following the Basic Laws passage, there was also a trend of passing new laws to have better regulation and oversight relating to the IDF, and the current law was the product, he said.
STILL, MKs were upset that the IDF and the Defense Ministry had been assigned in 2018 to provide an updated study of the impact of the current program by December 2019 and never did so.
In response, Defense officials said the current program was destabilized from December 2019 on due to multiple elections and the coronavirus pandemic, and FADC chairs had changed multiple times, leaving no real address for them to present an update to.
Knesset officials then said they expected an update in the future given that the new government has been in power for around six months.
Eventually, the committee went into a closed classified session where defense officials gave more details justifying the programs. The committee then approved them.
The fireworks at the committee followed an even rougher hearing last week on extending soldiers working in the IPS and police.
During that hearing, Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev (Labor) pushed back on any potential attempts to undermine the program of having female soldiers serve as prison guards following the recent Gilboa Prison pimping affair.
In the context of that debate, Bar Lev was concerned that some on the committee might want to end or shorten the law, which has been extended for three years many times for decades.
His main message was that the pimping scandal at Gilboa Prison was a rare, scandalous exception and should not undermine the generally highly successful decades-old program.
The pimping scandal, including accusations that female soldiers were pressured by higher officers to gain intelligence from Palestinian security prisoners by granting various sexual privileges, broke into the news in 2018.
The prosecution initially closed the case without indicting any prison commanders. But earlier in December, State Attorney Amit Aisman reopened the case after a top prison official revealed that the scandal was not being fully and properly probed.
Bar Lev said the program of soldiers serving in the police started in 1995, and there were now more than 1,100 participants.
He then said soldiers, 35% of whom are women, started to serve in the IPS in 2006, and there were now 760 of them.
In contrast, Yisrael Beytenu MK Yossi Shein called the program a “colossal failure” and vehemently opposed extending the law for three years.
Doing so would mean the Knesset would be guilty of “giving its stamp of approval to something that does not work,” he said. “It has not worked for many years; not a single task force has said it works.”
Shein then quoted several task forces that had called to end the program.
Rozin also opposed extending the law and criticized the committee and the defense establishment for raising the legal extension at the last minute, as if the pimping scandal was a nonissue, when the law must be thoroughly reexamined.