Deal Between Netanyahu and Lawmaker Endangers Child Protection Unit, Israeli Officials Warn

Law enforcement officials warn of fallout from moving Child Online Protection Bureau to new ministry headed by Orli Levi-Abekasis, who broke off from left-wing alliance to endorse Netanyahu

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Soon-to-be Community Development Minister Orli Levi-Abekasis at the Labor-Gesher-Meretz primary on March 1, 2020.
Soon-to-be Community Development Minister Orli Levi-Abekasis at the Labor-Gesher-Meretz primary on March 1, 2020. Credit: Moti Milrod

Senior law enforcement officials strongly criticized plans to transfer the police unit responsible for online crimes against minors to Orli Levi-Abekasis's newly established Community Development Ministry in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's inflated government of 36 ministers, set to be sworn in on Sunday.

The National Child Online Protection Bureau was founded by former Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan in 2018. It works in conjunction with the Welfare and Justice Ministries, mainly to apprehend cyber criminals who target children and teenagers.

"Only the police know how to deal with cyber criminals," a senior law enforcement official told Haaretz. "It’s inconceivable that such an important project will be moved to a ministry that was founded overnight."

According to the coalition agreement signed between Netanyahu and Orli Levi-Abekasis, who will head the new ministry, several other police units will be transferred to her ministry from the Public Security Ministry, which will be headed by former Justice Minister Amir Ohana.

"There is an obvious attempt to weaken the Public Security Ministry," said another law enforcement official, adding that transferring these units makes the Public Security Ministry redundant, since the police, fire and rescue, and prisoner services operate independently.

Levi-Abekasis, a former Yisrael Beiteinu lawmaker, left to form her own Gesher party in early 2019 and run on a socio-economic platform. In the March election, she ran with the left-wing Labor-Meretz-Gesher alliance. She broke away from the joint slate out of opposition to a Gantz-led government with Arab support, and endorsed Netanyahu instead. She joined the incoming government, to be sworn in on Sunday, as Minister of Community Development.

A Public Security Ministry official said that it took years to establish the bureau, "which saves the lives and souls of thousands of children on the internet," and that no one is sure what form the new ministry's authority over the bureau will take. "It's a pity that political considerations are risking the work of a unit tasked with the protecting children."

Along with the bureau, Levi-Abekasis' new ministry will also be responsible for community policing, the anti-drug authority and a nationwide project to install surveillance cameras in cities. According to estimates, these units receive a total budget of 200 million shekels.