Ex-Shin Bet Chief on Questioning of Foreigners at Israel's Borders: Shin Bet Becoming a Problem

Ami Ayalon says the uptick in actions against Israeli left-wing activists and foreigners at Israel's border control 'is a very slippery slope,' charging that the agency is becoming 'a problem for democracy'

FILE Photo: Former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon speaking in the documentary "The Gatekeepers."
AP Photo

Former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon spoke out on the growing phenomenon of foreigners being questioned at Israel's borders in an interview with the Israel Television Company's Yigal Mosko on Friday. "This is no longer a slippery slope ... This is what is called a very steep slope. The Israeli security agency is becoming a problem of democracy."

Ayalon explained: "As soon as the Israel Security Service arrests a person who participated in a demonstration or a Breaking the Silence tour, but they did nothing secret, the service erred and broke a delicate line of balance, thus becoming a problem rather than a solution."

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The former head of the security service referred to mounting testimonies that both the Shin Bet and the Ministry of Strategic Affairs have intensified their fight against left-wing activists, questioning them at the border crossings.

In August, American Jewish journalist Peter Beinart was asked about his attendance at a demonstration in the West Bank two years earlier, when he came to Israel to attend a family event.

Since May, Ta'ayush activist Daniel Kronberg has been questioned by a Shin Bet interrogator named Geva, who presented himself as a "radical leftist and delegitimization coordinator"; Israeli peace activist Tanya Rubinstein, who is general coordinator of the Coalition of Women for Peace, was held and questioned at the airport after returning to Israel from a conference abroad; MK Yehudit Ilani was questioned in the same manner after returning from covering preparations fora Gaza flotilla; the American Jewish lawyer Meyer Koplow was questioned at Ben-Gurion  after a Palestinian booklet in English was found in his suitcase; Israeli-American writer Moriel Rothman-Zecher was detained at the border during a visit to Israel with his wife and daughter, being warned that activity in left-wing organizations is a "slippery slope." 

In another high-profile incident, left-wing activists Simone Zimmerman and Abigail Kirschbaum were also detained and interrogated by the Shin Bet security service at the border crossing between Israel and Egypt. The two were questioned about their views toward Netanyahu.

After these numerous incidents, it was decided recently to prevent the  entry of Julie Weinberg-Connors, a 22-year-old activist in a Jewish-American left organization who was in the process of immigrating to Israel and studying in a yeshiva in Jerusalem. Weinberg-Connors was questioned over her about her visits to the West Bank.

The 22-year-old Lara Alqasem, who was granted a student visa, is currently being held at the Ben-Gurion Airport. Her entry was denied because of suspected boycott activity on her former university campus in Florida.

The Shin Bet issued a statement in response to Ayalon's comments, stating: "All Shin Bet interrogations were carried out in light of suspicions of illegal and violent activity or in connection with terrorism that could harm state security."
 
The Shin Bet went on to defend previous interrogations, claiming they were conducted regardless of political views and without instruction from superiors. "It should be emphasized that Shin Bet activity at the border crossings is a central and critical part of Israel's security, and the entry into Israel of dozens of suspects in the field of terrorism and espionage has been prevented in the past year thanks to this activity," the Shin Bet said.