In Israel, the intelligence apparatus is sacrosanct. Among the many things you can’t do is publicly name a current or former officer (even after death). Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman seems to have forgotten that. Chaim Levinson reports in today’s Haaretz (see accompanying story) that last August, he presented to the Knesset a bill for the Protection of the Rights of the Individual which is part of revised legislation defining terror organizations. In his remarks, he publicly thanked various officials who helped him draft the new legislation. He included in these remarks two senior Shin Bet officers, Eli Bachar and Dani Geva, both legal advisors to the spy agency.
Leaving aside the irony of exposing the secret identity of government intelligence officers during a speech in which you are proposing legislation allegedly to protect rights of the individual, the punishment under Israeli law for doing what Neeman did is three years in prison (one year, for accidentally exposing the identity). Normally, the justice minister would be a Knesset member and so have immunity from prosecution for any act that happened within the scope of his job. But Neeman is not an MK and thus has no immunity. This guy is in a heap of trouble. My guess is that his days are numbered.
The Knesset is also in a bind. It is legally forbidden from censoring printed remarks of its members. So the names of the two officers are in the Knesset transcript and available on its website. In case they are removed, I’ve uploaded it here.
Geva and Bachar resigned their respective positions since August, but they were serving when Neeman exposed them and besides, it’s illegal to identify Shin Bet officers even after they leave the secret police.
But that’s not where his troubles end. Last week, the Israeli media reported there had been a secret investigation ongoing for two years into Neeman’s alleged failure to report personal income. So besides a possible criminal charge, he also faces a charge of tax fraud. Before I knew of his Knesset faux pas, I thought it was deliciously ironic that the government’s leading legal light should be accused of engaging in personally corrupt behavior. Now, even more so.
With his boss, Bibi Netanyahu, about to achieve his apotheosis meeting the president and addressing the annual Aipacalooza conference, Neeman’s troubles couldn’t come at a worse time for this government. They refocus the public’s attention on both the corruption and sheer incompetence of leading ministers. Neeman’s trademark feature was the broad knitted yarmulke that adorned his balding pate. Such yarmulkes are a “fashion statement” of the settler movement. Apparently, Neeman’s sense of Jewish morality was only skin deep.
The ultranationalist minister has also publicly said that he looks forward eagerly to the day when Israel’s secular law will be replaced by Jewish halacha (thanks to David Sheen for pointing me to this). For those of you scoring at home, that means he’s in favor of Israel becoming a theocracy. But I’ve got news for Neeman, one of the Ten Commandments says “Thou shalt not steal.” And not paying your taxes is a form of theft.
Now we come to an even larger question, which is: why should the identity of the legal advisor of the Shin Bet be a national secret? Why should anyone, whether the Justice Minister or a washer-woman go to jail for exposing such a person? The answer lies in the nature of Israel as a national security state in which all manner of opacity may be justified by the exigencies of terror. Such secrecy of course does fundamental harm to Israel as a democracy and serves as one of many reasons why calling it a democracy is a misnomer.