Israeli Cabinet Backs Bill Allowing Police to Frisk Anyone

Legislation had been stalled for four years, but has been revived following recent wave of Palestinian knife attacks.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Police officers stop and search a man at the entrance to the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, October 13, 2015.Credit: AFP
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The cabinet voted on Sunday to back legislation that would let the police stop and frisk people even if they aren’t suspected of committing a crime.

The bill passed its first Knesset reading in 2011 as part of a broader effort to fight violence at nightclubs, but then stalled. A few days ago, however, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said he intended to revive it in order to help police battle the current wave of Palestinian knife attacks.

Following Sunday’s approval by the cabinet, the Knesset is expected to vote on the bill later this week.

The bill lists various types of establishments at which police would be allowed to frisk patrons on entry, on condition that the district police chief approves it and a sign is hung at the entrance warning that anyone going in may be frisked. The list includes nightclubs, pubs, discotheques and pool halls.

But the bill would also apply to any place that a district police chief “temporarily declares a place where such searches can be conducted, if it’s a place where a special security risk exists, or a place where intoxicating drinks are sold or served, and there’s a real fear of violent crimes being committed there.”

According to the Public Security Ministry’s interpretation of the provision, the police could, for example, declare the entire city of Jerusalem as a venue where anyone could be stopped and frisked.

Currently, the law allows police to frisk someone only if they have a reasonable suspicion that the person is carrying a weapon or some other object intended for use in committing a crime.

Erdan said the wave of knife attacks had created an “urgent need” to expand the police’s frisking powers.

But attorney Avner Pinchuk, of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, criticized the proposal, saying it would let the police conduct “invasive searches” with no justification.

“This is a measure the Public Security Ministry has been trying to pass for years on various pretexts, in order to legitimize a police practice that has been disqualified by the courts and which, in practice, will be used against people with dark skins and a Mizrahi appearance,” he said, referring to Jews of Middle Eastern origin.

Pinchuk added that police already have the right to frisk anyone who arouses their suspicion, which has enabled them to thwart several attacks in recent days. He also said a similar law in Britain was overturned by the European Court of Human Rights.

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