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Israel’s Creeping Criminalization of Democratic Rights

kobi snitz

Kobi Snitz remonstrating with IDF at West Bank anti-Wall protest

A few days ago, Amira Hass wrote a story in Haaretz about a Shabak interrogation of Israeli peace activist, Kobi Snitz.  Snitz is a mathematician at the Weizmann Institute and a member of a pro-BDS group in Israel called Boycott from Within (he also belongs to Anarchists Against the Wall) .  Snitz and several hundred others signed the group’s manifesto, which in turn brought many of them to the attention of the secret police (another term I use for Israel’s intelligence/security apparatus).

They “invited” Snitz to come for questioning exactly a year after the last time they’d had him over for a nice cup of tea and cakes.  He didn’t want to come, but they told him one of the alternatives would be sending a police car to campus to arrest him and haul him in for questioning.  Since they told him he was not being summoned as a result of charges being filed against him, he complied.

They offered him a “favor” not offered to Israeli Palestinian suspects who get worked over pretty well when they’re interrogated.  With Snitz, they offered to meet him near campus so he wouldn’t have to miss classes and other professional responsibilities.  How generous of them to accord a fellow Jew such kindnesses.

When Kobi arrived at the interrogation, he was met with a lower level apparatchik named Rona and a more senior Shabak officer, Mati, who introduced himself as a senior official in the agency’s “Jewish section.”  Mati told him that his Shabak responsibility included working the “extreme left.”  Most interestingly, the secret policeman told Kobi that the issue of “delegitimization” was part of the agency’s parameters.

This means that BDS activism inside Israel is considered by the Shin Bet either an outright criminal offense or an incipient one.  The Knesset has passed a law making support for BDS an offense, but my understanding is that it’s a civil and not a criminal offense.  The Shin Bet’s understanding of the law is of course shabby, but it doesn’t matter because the security service’s mandate is expansive and the definition of its purview is robust.

In 2007, Yuval Diskin announced a new doctrine that stated that the Shabak would consider any form of activism (even legal activity) that threatened the Jewish nature of the State as an act of sedition, and therefore defined as a criminal act.  Though at the time most observers viewed this as a threat to Israeli Palestinian nationalists (Ameer Makhoul is indeed serving a nine-year sentence on such trumped up charges), it appears the concept has been expanded to include dangerous leftist Jewish radicals, whose ideas threaten to topple the State.  This is the insanity of latter-day Israel in which ideas have become as dangerous as weapons, and thoughts as seditious as actual acts.  Thankfully, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel filed a legal challenge to this doctrine.

At the beginning of the interrogation session, Mati reached out his hand to Kobi, but the latter refused it.  Mati seemed genuinely offended and said: “What, you have something against shaking people’s hands, or is it just my hand you won’t shake.  I shake hands with anyone, even people I don’t agree with.”  Kobi replied: “It might be different if I came willingly at your invitation.  But that wasn’t an option here.”

Mati seemed only too willing to give him a lecture on the nature of Israeli democracy, which Kobi through ludicrous coming from the mouth of a security agent.  So he shut up and the conversation ended quickly.  But not before Mati told him that he’d been seeing Kobi’s name too often (whatever that meant) and that his actions had “crossed the line.”  The agent didn’t specify either what activity was viewed as troublesome, or what the line was (Israel’s security apparatus doesn’t need to define these things).  This meeting, Mati said, was more of a courtesy.  If he continued with the “troublesome” activities in which he’d been engaged, the next meeting would be “a lot less pleasant.”

Since Kobi works closely with Palestinians who receive precisely this sort of unpleasant treatment, he knew what that meant.  He also was pretty sure Mati was bluffing.  As he’d been similarly interrogated precisely a year before.  In fact, he wondered whether this might be the equivalent of a yearly annual security “physical” performed by his “resident” security specialist.  But more than anything, he thought it was an attempt to build a psychological profile of each activist for future use.

Rona, the junior clerk then pulled out a piece of lined paper and read from a handwritten statement she’d penned warning him that his behavior was unacceptable to the authorities and that he should mend the error of his ways.

Kobi told me that twelve of so other activists have been similarly targeted, so this is a growing phenomenon of intimidating Israeli Jewish activists.  Apparently, the security services view the ideas of anarchists as equally dangerous to the actual bombs and bullets of settlers who’ve actually murdered Palestinian victims and burned down their mosques.

There’s no danger the security services will actually solve any settler crimes of violence against Palestinians.  In fact, they routinely “lose” the evidence and release suspects from jail.  In this case reported today , they sentenced a group of settlers who spied on IDF troop movements (a crime in wartime punishable by death), attacked soldiers and trashed a military base, to house arrest.  The worst they do is slap an administrative order on a settler prohibiting him from being on the West Bank for a period of time.

Kobi told me that Yonatan Pollak had been threatened with such a restraining order.  This, of course, would mean restricting the freedom of movement of a citizen suspected of no illegal act except possibly thinking (oh yes, participating in a West Bank protest against the will of the IDF IS an illegal act in the Occupation state called Israel).

When faced with actual settler crimes, the Shin Bet would prefer to hound unarmed, pacifist anarchists whose only illegal acts involve having “unacceptable” thoughts on political issues.  The secret police must get it through their thick skulls that it is not illegal to advocate change in society, not even radical change.  When turning Israel into a democratic state offering equal rights to all citizens is viewed as criminally seditious behavior, you know that the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Arie Brand December 26, 2012, 4:15 PM

    One of the main arguments of apologists for Israel has always been that it is “the only real democracy in the Middle East”. One can rely on the Israeli secret police to tear that last fig leaf away. Anti present day Israel activists couldn’t do a better job.

  • Rain December 27, 2012, 12:34 AM

    Creeping is really the operative word in this article. Beliefs and values are being shifted here by exactly this slow but sure process. For years we have seen middle Israel creeping to the right and the inevitable shift away from democracy that accompanies this move. It’s not difficult to see why this happens. An average Israeli reads and views news only from Israeli and Hebrew sources, and all his or her opinions are formed by this stream. They are rarely exposed to opinions or advice from outside. The result of this insulation is that anyone (like Kobi Snitz) who blatantly steps out of line can be dealt with without too much public outcry. Certainly Amira Hass doesn’t count for most Israelis since she is on the “radical left”, as is Haaretz.

    The results of this creep are also obvious for the next election. The Labor party is now extreme left, Bibi is in the center, and the rise of HaBeit HaYehudi, no longer confined to the religious right (http://www.timesofisrael.com/the-new-secular-face-of-religious-zionism/ ) is frightening and inevitable.

    During a conversation with a number of “left-to-middle” Israelis yesterday there were a number of interesting observations.
    1) All of them had voted Meretz, Labor, or Kadima at the last election. Each profess not to like or trust Netanyahu.
    2) None of them will vote labor this time because they are afraid that having a woman with no army background as prime minister will mean disaster if we have to go to war.
    3) Many of them are moving to the right in spite of previous ideology because a) The Arab spring and Syrian events prove that no one outside will help or support us and we can trust only ourselves, and b) The Green Line is no longer an issue because everyone knows that entire cities cannot be dismantled, and anyway most of those over the green line are just like them (with radicals and hilltop youth as the exception, but then there are crazies everywhere).
    4) Those who voted labor in the past now see it as a “wasted” vote and are considering voting for the “moderate right” (read Yair Lapid) so that he can balance the more extreme right-wing govt in which he will inevitably sit.

    No matter how ridiculous some of these statements, they show that for many Israeli fear reigns supreme. It outweighs democratic values, considerations for Palestinian rights, caring for international opinion or law. Fear is what will drive votes in just a few weeks, and sadly we will have a new government that is a political expression of this negative emotion.

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