Employing the Shin Bet security agency to combat the wave of Arab sector crimes is beyond the scope of the agency’s legal mandate and would violate privacy rights, NGOs warned Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara in letters sent Sunday in response to proposals to do so by the government.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel appealed to the attorney-general that, according to previous High Court of Justice rulings, the Shin Bet law should be interpreted as requiring the agency to be used in national security situations of serious and immediate danger to citizens and the state.
Under this narrow interpretation of the law, routine criminal threats would not be the province of responsibility of the Shin Bet, but of the Israel Police. Arab sector crime is not a novel phenomenon, and has been been increasing for several years, noted ACRI.
Tasking the Shin Bet with the responsibility of addressing Arab crime families is not a national security matter. To change its designated role, the government would have to pass a new law or amend the current Shin Bet Law, ACRI assessed. The NGO noted that the government’s intention appeared to be to bypass new legislation through a cabinet decision and rapid approval in a Knesset committee, as with the coronavirus pandemic restrictions.
The Movement for Quality Government in Israel (MQG) argued that individual rights were threatened by the broad powers of the Shin Bet, which allowed for intrusive methods to violate the right of privacy to stop terrorism, sabotage and espionage.
The Shin Bet's tools are meant for Israel's enemies
The NGO argued that the employment of the tools used against Israel’s enemies on Israeli citizens isn’t compatible with the basic principles of a democratic state. Mass surveillance of citizens would bring Israel into the company of the worst types of regimes.
“The use of the Shin Bet against the state’s citizens is only seen in fascist theocratic dictatorial regimes,” said MQG chairman Dr. Eliad Shraga. “There is no such animal in a democratic government, and it does not matter what the circumstances are – whether it is the coronavirus, whether it is violence in the Arab sector, or tomorrow morning, God forbid, against the demonstrators in protests. Whenever the state decides there is an emergency, it would be able to activate the Shin Bet against the citizens of the country.”
Shraga instead called for the government to fire National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, invest new resources into the Israel Police and transfer infantry brigades from the IDF to reinforce the border police.
On Sunday, both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir had called to use the Shin Bet to fight the wave of Arab sector crime.“I will convene a special meeting to integrate the Shin Bet in the targeted effort against the crime families,” Netanyahu said at Sunday’ cabinet meeting.
The use of the Shin Bet against Arab sector crime had been considered in 2022, to similar concerns about the violation of privacy rights.
In 2022, 106 people were murdered in Arab communities, a decrease from the 126 people killed the year before. However, 2023 has been shaping up to be almost twice as deadly for Arab citizens as the previous year. Though it is only halfway through, this year’s death toll of Arab sector killings has almost matched that of 2022.