Theodor Herzl at the Fifth Zionist Congress, 1901
Theodor Herzl at the Fifth Zionist Congress, 1901.
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The Shin Bet security service has added a question to its annual employee evaluation form: Does the employee “act according to a Zionist value system." The question is disturbing and shows that the organization charged with protecting the state and its democracy is slipping into the unacceptable realm of taking sides in a political and ideological argument.

The employment rules of the Shin Bet are confidential by law, and yet the question must be asked: What are the “Zionist values” that the service champions? Theodor Herzl’s Zionism or that of Ahad Ha’am? David Ben-Gurion’s or Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s? Shulamit Aloni’s or Meir Kahane’s? And who is authorized to determine the proper system of Zionist values for the Shin Bet’s employees − a committee of historians, Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen, or perhaps the prime minister?

This ambiguous definition is by its very nature problematic because it makes it difficult for the Shin Bet’s employees to understand what conduct is expected of them. But the problem becomes even more complex because of the main task of the Shin Bet since 1967: maintaining the Israeli occupation. Do the repressive steps taken to this end conform to the “Zionist values” the Shin Bet fosters? That depends on who you ask.

It may be assumed that the current leadership of the Shin Bet, three out of four of whom come from a national religious background, views the perpetuation of the occupation and the construction of settlements as a manifestation of Zionism. In contrast, the heads of the Shin Bet that appeared in the film “Gatekeepers” distanced themselves from the policy they carried out in the territories and spoke painfully and regretfully about the moral problems inherent in it. It would be interesting to know what grade Ami Ayalon or Yuval Diskin would receive on Cohen’s evaluation form.

The Shin Bet is also in charge of vetting candidates for sensitive positions throughout government. The moment its employees are gauged by their level of Zionism, concern grows that this evaluation will leak beyond the closed walls of the service and affect anyone in a sensitive position requiring security clearance to be hired or continue working.

The law governing the Shin Bet states that the organization is “in charge of protecting the security of the state, the democratic regime and its institutions from treats of terror, sabotage, subversion, espionage and the uncovering of state secrets, and to protect and promote other essential interests of the national security of the state.”

The law does not mention Zionism and its values, which do not appear on the Shin Bet’s website or in the help-wanted ads it publishes. The service must return to its defined tasks rather than dealing with the enforcement of “Zionist values.”