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'Hi, this is Rona from the Shin Bet'

The logic of Israel’s secret police dictates that it can summon left-wing activists and Palestinian citizens of Israel for friendly ‘chats’ about their political activities. Sounds like a movie script? Illegal? The State, it turns out, insists that this state of affairs is perfectly appropriate.

By Hagai El-Ad (translated by Sol Salbe) / ‘The Hottest Place in Hell’
Read this post in Hebrew here

In Israeli airports, certain people always “endanger security.” Well, it turns out that there are certain ideas that can also “endanger security” if there are people struggling on their behalf. If you’re in the first category but still want to fly, they will rummage through your clothing; if you’re in the latter category and you want to remain conscientious people, they’ll rummage through your thoughts.

Imagine, one day, you receive an unexpected phone call: “Rona” from the Shin Bet (Israeli Security Agency, also known as the “Shabak”), is on the line. She wants you to come in for a “chat.” You summon enough courage to ask what would happen if, instead of accepting Rona’s invitation, you pass the day chatting with other people. Rona explains that it is for your own good, and that it would be a shame if they had to send a cop car. You are convinced and show up – after all, the cops have other things to do…

During the “chat” they let you know that “they know what you are up to” – you’re involved in demonstrations against the occupation, or for Bedouin rights, for example. They ask about your friends and other activists who you don’t really know. About your studies, salary and family. Rona is quite curious. Basically, they tell you that you’re close to the edge, that they’re watching you, that for your own sake you better not slip, that you have an “opportunity to stop.” Otherwise it could become “a lot less pleasant.”

Sounds like a movie script? A bit exaggerated? Illegal? The State, it turns out, insists that this state of affairs is perfectly appropriate. In response to a petition filed by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) against the “warning chats” that the Shin Bet conducts with various citizens, it stated: “Demonstrations by ‘Leftists’ against the Prawer Plan may develop into widespread confrontations between Jews and Arabs which may have broad security implications. Therefore, disturbances of this kind could pose a threat to state security, and consequently, dealing with them is within the scope of the Shin Bet’s powers and range of activities.”

That is, if until now you have been under the possibly erroneous impression that in Israel demonstrations are a matter of interest to the public at large and at most – if things get out of hand – the police, you’re wrong. It turns out there are some demonstrations that — before they happen! — are of interest to the Shin Bet. For the Shin Bet, merely expressing interest in some issues – guess which ones – puts you out of the realm of a free-flowing discourse of attitudes, policies and values of a democratic country. Instead one becomes part of a shadowy world in which the state allows itself to “gather information,” deter and prevent.

After deciding what is considered “dangerous to state security,” the Shin Bet makes its own rules and grants itself the power to act this way. But if demonstrations about an issue that is so obviously pertinent to public interest, such as the future of the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev, potentially “endanger state security,” then which “safe matters” are we permitted to protest without risking state security? And what about other dangers, such as ultra-Orthodox protests against the draft? Or demonstrations by reform Jews against the Rabbinate? And what about demonstrations by Israelis against the occupation, or in favor of it? Which ones “endanger state security?”

The degree of adaptability of this reckless interpretation of “state security” is directly related to the Shin Bet’s enthusiasm for serving the government’s political agenda at any given time. Because who really knows whether demonstrations against the Prawer Plan endanger state security, or whether they enhance it? Perhaps public pressure in a particular direction, following an intense political struggle, will lead to the development of the Negev for the benefit of all its inhabitants, as opposed to the discriminatory policies of the last 60 years? Which country is “safer” – the one with a greater equality for all citizens, or the one that grants privileges to some certain segments of the population?

Working out who should determine such complex maters is no trifling matter. That is the very reason why there are debates, demonstrations, elections, etc. in a free society. But it is obvious who ought to keep their distance from such public issues: the Shin Bet. Indeed, thoughts, ideas and opinions can be boring, original, bothersome or dangerous. But given the secret services’ powers, composition and methods of work, it is far more dangerous to give them the authority to sort through the marketplace of ideas. Other than terrorism, espionage or an attempted violent coup, it is not up to them to determine what should be deemed dangerous.

In a world where campaigning for human rights is presented by some politicians as “aiding and abetting terrorism” there is nothing far-fetched about worrying about the continuing, deliberate attempt to blur the difference between democratic resistance (I only wish it were determined and effective) and the different policy measures of a given government. In a country where the Jewish majority frequently designates Arab citizens as a security threat – particularly when that Arab community struggles for its rights – it is not unreasonable to point out the unfounded nature of a situation in which the majority determines that minority is dangerous by virtue of its very existence.

The Shin Bet must be reminded that there is a difference between demonstrations against the Prawer Plan and terrorism. Those who position the two of them on the same continuum are not acting on behalf of an embattled democracy, but on the behalf of tyrannical rule. Do such activities by the secret services constitute subversion of democratic governance (Article 7 of the Shin Bet Law)? The real danger is not in demonstrations by citizens, but in improper attempts to undermine our freedom of speech.

P.S.: Still not worried? Earlier this week, Finance Minister Yair Lapid made the following astonishing comment: “Most of the Trajtenberg committee [appointed by Netanyahu to deal with socio-economic problems] did not even possess a proper security clearance.” It turns out that in Israel, taking part in the discussion dealing with even the most civil of issues – housing, welfare, health, education – requires, in Lapid’s opinion, a security clearance. So, if you require a security clearance in order to discuss such topics such as private medical care, child allowances and the building of classrooms, which discussions can people without a security clearance participate in? According to Lapid’s logic, there is no reason for the Shin Bet to not summon Daphni Leef, who sparked the J14 socio-economic protest movement, for a warning chat.

Hagai El-Ad is the CEO of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. This article was first published in Hebrew on ‘The Hottest Place in Hell.’

Related:
Just another interrogation: My encounter with the Shin Bet
Israel’s internal security service going after leftwing protesters
Two more activists invited for ‘friendly chat’ by Shin Bet

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    COMMENTS

      • Jan

        It is good that you are also reading Mondoweiss. Maybe you will find out more than you want to know about Israel but that will be good for you.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bar

          I do not waste my time over there. The link came up. That site is a joke and it’s amusing to me that you take it seriously.

          Reply to Comment
          • Jan

            Mondoweiss is no joke and I do take it seriously. I suspect that you might be a fan of Arutz Sheva or the rag bankrolled by American casino owner Sheldon Adelson.

            I think you just don’t want to know about what Mondoweiss discloses.

            Maybe you should also read Max Blumenthal’s Golaith: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel. Blumenthal, who has spent a great deal of time in Israel spells it out as it is. It is no wonder that the uber Zionists are attacking him. They don’t want people to know some of the dark side of Israel. I suspect you don’t want people to know that either.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            Bwahahaahahaahahahahaaha!!!

            Blumenthal!

            You’ve got to be joking!

            Listen, you can keep going back to the cesspool that is Mondoweiss, but if you take what you read there seriously, don’t expect anybody to take YOU seriously.

            Reply to Comment
          • shachalnur

            Mondoweiss is on your side ,Bar.

            “Controlled opposition”.

            The list of subjects on Mondoweiss that are “off limits”(i.e. censored) is growing by the week.

            9/11,the role of Zionism in WW2,Ukraine etc. are not allowed to be mentioned.

            Mondoweiss cares about Palestinians, allegedly,but the hate they create towards Jews is their main aim.

            A bit like Zionists before WW2,declaring war on the Nazi’s in order to create just enough hate leading to bloodshed and genocide.

            History will not be kind on Mondoweiss and 1897 Zionism,in the end you try to achieve the same outcome;creating hate towards Jews in general.

            Reply to Comment
          • shachalnur

            Jan,

            I think you got Adelson wrong,he’s owner of Israel Hayom,not Arutz Sheva.

            Arutz Sheva is very critical of Adelson.

            Bar is an Adelson groupie though.

            Eventhough Arutz Sheva is pro-settler,they are not controlled by foreign interests and speaks the truth on many subjects.

            They know the settler experiment is in deep trouble,and have to speak uncomfortable truths in order to defend the settlers.

            It might be the only source of info in Israel that is not controlled by TPTB ,besides Kikkar Ha’shabbat.

            Reply to Comment
    1. Danny

      I guess it’s not as bad as Russia or North Korea (in those countries Rona doesn’t bother calling you), but it’s still an harassment and an attempt to infringe upon freedom of expression.

      The Shabak should leave lefties exercising their freedom of speech alone, and instead focus their attention on the real trouble-makers – settlers.

      Reply to Comment
    2. The security apparatus should be restricted to targeting the material support of criminal acts (this is an indulgent definition, as the ruling coalition gets to create criminality in legislation). Of course, this standard wasn’t upheld by the FBI against leaders of the Civil Rights movement, as a tape delivered to the wife of MLK made clear.

      What should happen is that calls from Rona should be subject to court challenge with consequent injunction against Shin Bet. A few such injections would slow the Shin Bet down. Indulged authority is drunk authority.

      The Mondoweiss piece provided by Bar, above, says at its start, that in a call from another self named Rona

      “She refused to tell me what it was about over the phone, and explained that I was not going to be arrested, and that this was an introductory or friendly conversation.”

      Failing to declare cause to a citizen is, in the US, an unreasonable search. It should be in Israel too. When the man writing in Mondoweiss meets Rona, she says that

      “she knew I am an activist working for BDS and for a general boycott on the State of Israel and wanted to know what else I do within the framework of this activity. …

      “Rona stressed that there is a law being made in the Knesset and that it is very much possible that my activity will be illegal soon.”

      Which is bizarre. The man is being question over something not yet illegal. And THAT should make Rona’s questioning illegal. Then, after dealing with the interviewee’s illegal presence at Bil’in and Na’alin (if true), which would be fair game, the man writes

      “I documented the entire conversation on a slip of paper until Rona started talking about that piece of paper and about what I was writing it. Finally, she confiscated my dangerous piece of paper, claiming that I was not allowed to bring in a recording device and that it was illegal.”

      And THAT should be illegal, as a defendant has the right, at least in the US, to augment his memory with writing–the notes are considered protected under the 1st and 4th Amendments as they do not capture the voice of Rona.

      Our interviewee concludes with

      “As far as I’m concerned, I understand that what interests them is our activity on BDS, and that they may even be trying to prepare cases for us, so they’ll be ready for the moment when the new law is voted into existence.”

      And THAT is illegal as it implies self incrimination–which is why its only a “friendly” conversation, so one does not have to inform the interviewee of his right to remain silent. Ultimately, the Boycott bill was stripped of its criminal provisions before becoming law, which underscores that Rona’s interview was illegal as she threatened use of a pending bill which failed her details. It should also be noted that in the passed civil suit version of Boycott, the State has no place in archiving information (this interview) for a future private civil case; indeed, a court should bar use of that information and all lines of evidence derived from it.

      The Mondoweiss piece (from 2010) ends with a note from 972 CEO Noam Sheizaf attesting to the reliability of the account in general. Noam also notes

      “We should remember that political interrogations of Palestinians are not that friendly or polite.”

      As to Lapid’s dismay over the lack of security clearances for the Trajtenberg committee, such clearance should be limited to ascertaining if any represent a real violent threat and, apart from the yes or no, the details of the clearance should be barred from Lapid.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Joel

      The calls are harassment, and probably a waste of time.

      Leftists subjected to this sort of harassment should visit Rona accompanied by their lawyer(s).

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        No, not really. As a matter of fact, in ANY other state they would had been long imprisoned, and in neighbour states probably even executed.

        You see, the ultimate goal of BDS is elimination of Israel, and in that, whoever supports BDS is not much different from Hamas fellows who launch missiles and send suicide bombers.

        Thinking of that, the only difference is that an average Hamas fighter has a bit more gut and a bit more ruthless than an average BDS supporter.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Joel

      @Trespasser

      You’re right. BDS is for the elimination of Israel, but we know that already.
      Harassing ‘true believers’ serves no discernible purpose.
      Harassment, however, does cause a ‘chilling effect’ on the free speech of everyone else.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Although I do agree that friendly chit-chats with enemies of the state can do little good and harsh measures are to come, I really don’t see how that could cause ‘chilling effect’ to Israelis who would make Israel a better place rather than obliterating her.

        Reply to Comment
        • Joel

          Activists operating in the ‘grey zone’ will be chilled, and that would be detrimental to the State.

          I don’t want Shin Bet monitoring this blog site.
          You, me and other like-minded supporters of Israel can do the job ourselves.

          BTW. 972 Mag is exceptional in not muzzling me when I curse the anti-Semites who troll here or when I brow beat their writers.

          I respect that.

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >Activists operating in the ‘grey zone’ will be chilled, and that would be detrimental to the State.

            I’m afraid that activists can’t do anything useful as long as PA and Arab League refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

            >You, me and other like-minded supporters of Israel can do the job ourselves.

            Something tells me that a BDS activist would rather be interrogated by a whole squad of Shabak agents than have an unscheduled meeting with an angry ars from Beer Sheva, who decided to take law in his hands.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Samuel

      This is what happened in that bastion of Western Democracy during WW2:

      “Voluntary censorship by the American press began before the country’s entry into the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941. After the European war began in 1939, journalists began withholding information about Canadian troop movements.[1]:21 The First War Powers Act, approved on December 18, 1941, contained broad grants of Executive authority for the prosecution of the war, including a provision for censorship. The next day President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8985, which established the Office of Censorship and conferred on its director the power to censor international communications in “his absolute discretion.”

      Israel has been involved in a 100 year old war with the Palestinians and other Arab neighbours. We only have a formal cold peace with two of our Arab neighbours and only in recent times.

      Reply to Comment
      • The same happened in WW I, the US Supreme Court following along. Then, surprise, after the war ended, real dissent began forming on the Court on these matters, among the dissenters Justice Holmes. Then, in WW II, the US and Canada both interned their Japanese populations, citizens or not. And, at least in the US, the Supreme Court again said ok, although the US Congress, with then President Reagan concurring, later deemed it “shameful.” Hey, let’s do it all again!

        The Mondoweiss reported case I discussed above was over BDS advocacy, not war. The Bedouin case of the present piece is about Arab citizens, not war. The occupation is your best hit.

        I agree that there are historical, cultural, and present reasons for the security apparatus to get to this point. That doesn’t mean that they are correct in their actions, let along that all dissent involving demonstrations is treason. I certainly don’t think you are at war with Bedouin citizens.

        I think a better analogy would be labor strikes in the US in the 1920’s and 30’s. These were partly organized at times by hard leftists, or at least had them on board–socialists, Marxists, Soviet Communists, anarchists. Yet the unions derived from strikes made a better life for their members and did not destroy their associated corporations. Those opposed to the strikers either hated their uppity nature or felt economics predicted disaster. What we do know is that the living conditions underlying strikes were horrendous.

        What remains of the Israeli left believes that living conditions matter for all. They may also believe that without correction social explosions are inevitable. Free speech exists to test out those ideas. As Joel, above, says, Rona like interviews chill speech. That is a grave mistake.

        I have tried to detail above how it is legally wrong to do so in the Mondoweiss reported case. As I cannot see the Israeli populace easily if ever conforming to BDS, Rona’s interest in BDS within Israel is particularly illuminating, as it focuses on thought, not plausible outcome, showing how an unchecked security apparatus moves from material outcome/action to incorrect thought. National purity is not a position I would endorse. “Incorrect thought” can turn out to be more correct than not.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          When the war ends there would be no reason to track/question those involved in supporting the enemy in a time of war.

          In the meantime BDS is a campaign whose goal is the destruction of the State of Israel. Whether they act violently or not is hardly relevant since they quite openly admit that they are involved in a war on the State of Israel whose goal is its destruction.

          In the 1920s and 1930s the Soviet Union was directly sponsoring and directing the actions of the communists and socialists working in the United States. This can be seen in the positions these groups took in regards to intervention in Europe against the Germans. They radically switched positions within weeks of the German invasion of the Soviet Union. None of this is actually disputed these days. The US government was entirely justified in investigating members of these organizations as spies and foreign agents, which they most evidently were. They too used free speech as justification for sedition and propaganda guided from abroad with the goal of undermining American society.

          Reply to Comment
          • Reza Lustig

            As an American, I speak for a lot of my fellow citizens when I say that apologists for the McCarthyite campaign of state political terror, under the pretext of hunting down “spies,” are widely held in ridicule.

            You have also provided an excellent example of why we take claims that modern Zionists believe in democracy with a grain of salt. You want an “existential” (in the actual sense of the word) threat to Israel, there it is: that the Israeli people will allow fear to make them choose being a “Jewish” state, at the expense of being a “democratic” state.

            Reply to Comment
          • Tzutzik

            ” … that the Israeli people will allow fear to make them choose being a “Jewish” state, at the expense of being a “democratic” state.”

            Don’t you worry about us, Reza old buddy, we are a resilient people. We know what IS good for us and what ISN’T.

            As for comparing us to the America of TODAY, we know that comparison is not valid. America did what it thought it had to do when IT was under threat in an existential war, and we will do what we have to do in our existential war.

            After the war? We too will be better. Does that put your mind at ease about what is or isn’t good for us? I am glad it does and I am glad that you care about us. Or do you really?!

            Reply to Comment
    6. shachalnur

      “Come a bit closer huh,ah will ya huh.
      Close enough to look in my eyes,Shu-Rona.
      Keeping it a mystery gets to me…..

      My My My My Shu-Rona.”

      Reply to Comment
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