All in Favor / A Precedent Against Progress

When the Justice Ministry investigated whether any other Western police force had a database like the one the Knesset granted the Israel Police yesterday, it found nothing even remotely similar. The only other country whose police has a communications database at all is Australia, and that database contains only telephone numbers and addresses. But should other countries seek to enact a similar law in the future, they will not have that problem: They will be able to cite the precedent of Israel's wonderful democracy.

Last Wednesday, the Knesset Constitution Committee considered a bill to extend the Shin Bet security service's exceptional arrest powers in Gaza for another 18 months. These powers include detaining someone for 96 hours before bringing him to court and extending a suspect's remand without him being present. Committee members voted instead to extend these powers for another three years.

Today, the Knesset will mark Human Rights Day, and MKs Dov Khenin (Hadash) and Zahava Gal-On (Meretz) will give the house a report on its own human rights record. One can confidently predict that the report will not deem the Knesset a bastion of liberalism and progress.

This Knesset has proven quite conservative - one could almost say Republican. That is partly because the Shinui Party disappeared and Meretz dropped to five seats, while the house's right flank has 20 seats. Moreover, many Kadima Party members are former Likudniks, and their heart is still with that party. This Knesset is a great believer in enforcement. It may not be able to give the police more money and man power, but it can give it new tools and powers - like the communications database.

Just a month ago, the Constitution Committee approved a bill by MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu) that would impose a mandatory 10-year sentence on anyone who assaults an elderly person - and if the victim suffers genuine injury, the mandatory penalty would be 20 years. No one would defend assaults on the elderly, but it is hard to avoid the conclusion the committee lost its senses on this issue.

One ray of light on the human rights front was the Knesset's approval of a bill by Likud faction chair Gideon Sa'ar that would enable courts to overturn convictions if the indictment itself was a serious miscarriage of justice. The problem is that Sa'ar's bill is the exception. There are not many bills in this Knesset that increase citizens' rights instead of restricting them.