Responding to a High Court of Justice petition filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel against the warning talks the Shin Bet security service is holding with social and political activists, the state explains that this is part of the Shin Bet’s job, since protests against the Prawer plan have been classified as subversive nationalist activity.
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The response came after activist Ratheb Abu Karinat was summoned for a talk with the Shin Bet because of his anti-Prawer plan activity. The state prosecutor explains on behalf of the Shin Bet that Karinat was summoned because “he is a prominent activist, who both before and after the summons organized protest events against the Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev. He was warned about potential escalation of events of this kind into illegal and violent disturbances … especially after we saw things turn violent in Jaffa and in the Negev in recent weeks.”
In its petition, ACRI takes issue with the Shin Bet’s repeated pattern of holding warning talks – that are not official interrogations – with social and political activists, often by means of police summons. The activists are questioned about their political activity and what their acquaintances and other activists are up to, with it being made clear that the Shin Bet already knows a lot about them and is monitoring their activity. They are frequently asked to supply names and phone numbers of family or friends, and sometimes questioned about their financial situation.
Sometimes they are told that “so far” they are not suspected of breaking the law, but that they should be careful not to do so in the future or “to harm state security.” Sometimes the activists are also subjected to humiliating searches.
The state asserts that the Shin Bet has authority to deal with protests in the event that they fall under the definition of nationalist subversion, as with events that are motivated by political ideology.
“As a rule, in a democracy protests [that exceed the bounds of the law] are a police matter and not a matter for the Shin Bet. However, the Shin Bet must act to foil protest displays that are carried out for subversive and nationalistically-motivated ideological reasons, when the nature of the protest poses a risk to state security,” the state said in its response. Yet the state fails to explain why such demonstrations pose harm to state security.
New definition of the term ‘subversion’
The state’s response also reveals a new definition of the term “subversion.” In the past, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin said in response to an inquiry from ACRI that “the Shin Bet’s position is that the category of ‘subversion’ can also include aiming to alter the fundamental values of the state by annulling its democratic or Jewish character.”
But in response to the current petition, the Shin Bet defines the term as “even non-violent activity that has covert aspects deriving from ideological motives or the interests of foreign elements, whose aim or likely result is a violation of the law or a risk to national security or disrupting the order of the democratic government or its institutions or harming other institutions vital to national security, as determined by the government in accordance with the Law on the Shin Bet.”
Thus, in order for an act to be defined as subversive, two conditions must be met: The act must be covert and illegal. Therefore, a legal activity such as a demonstration cannot constitute subversion. The state acknowledges the seriousness of summoning people for talks with the Shin Bet, saying it could infringe their right to privacy and potentially have a chilling effect on legal protest activity that wouldn’t necessarily slide into violence.
ACRI rejects this response. Attorney Layla Margalit says the state’s response discriminates between different types of protests, such as the large social protests and the protest against the Prawer Plan. “No one would ever have deemed the social protests or the Haredi protests against the draft as a security matter requiring Shin Bet handling – even if there was a fear of disturbances – but in this case a civil issue of key importance to Israeli Arabs, and others, is classified as “nationalist subversion” and as a threat to state security,” she said.