Israeli Government Seeking Way to Seize Funds From Terror Suspects Without Trial

Knesset legal panel calls proposed clause an unjustified and ‘grave violation of right to property.’

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon.
David Bachar

The government is seeking a legal means to enable the property and money of terror suspects to be confiscated prior to any judicial proceeding.

The initiative would be part of the anti-terror bill the government is advancing in the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

Committee Chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi) says he will work to advance the proposal, despite the fact that the committee’s legal department ruled that such impoundment constitutes a grave violation of the right to property and an attempt to punish suspects without a trial, rather than merely an effort to prevent terror.

“On the one hand, we want preserve individual [civil] rights, even if it is a terrorist, but on the other hand we want to permit the defense forces to do everything they can to prevent terror attacks,” Slomiansky said.

Defense officials seek a significant expansion of the powers to confiscate funds as part of the prosecution of terror offenses. The government’s aim was exposed in a detailed opinion drafted by the legal department in advance of a committee session on the issue scheduled for Monday.

It constitutes a new formulation of a clause in the anti-terror bill the government is advancing in the committee. The bill is intended to replace the Mandate-era emergency regulations that are still in place, aggregating and updating all existing counter-terror legislation into a single law.

The original formulation of the clause, which was passed in a first Knesset reading in September, permits defense agencies to confiscate property and funds of terror organizations (but not of individuals who are suspected of terror offenses) in an accelerated administrative procedure prior to judicial proceedings in their case. The aim is to quickly shut down funding to these organizations in order to preclude planned terror attacks. In addition to the administrative proceeding, the bill also creates a judicial protocol for impounding these funds.

The government, however, recently submitted to the Knesset committee a new version of the clause that extends the defense minister’s powers of administrative seizure to also include individuals suspected of terror activity.

In its opinion, the committee’s legal department wrote that the amended forfeiture arrangement “constitutes a grave violation of the right to property, and the powers of immediate seizure all the more so. Such a violation can [only] be carried out after a thorough examination of the facts, and immediate seizure is meant as ‘first aid’ so that this review does not thwart the purpose of the eventual forfeiture.”

According to the legal opinion, the new proposal contained a punitive component that goes beyond the original purpose of foiling terror attacks. 

“Imposing punishment on an individual in an administrative procedure when the option exists of a more proportionate judicial procedure that would not harm the purpose of the confiscation raises significant constitutional difficulties. Confiscation through a court does not harm the goal of eliminating terror organizations or of cutting off the ‘oxygen’ to terror activities: It simply does so in a fair manner, in a procedure allowing for proper review and the right of defense, requiring the state to present its evidence and explanations to the court.”

The legal opinion goes on to note that the defense minister already has the authority to seize private property in certain situations, and that the new formulation expands both the types of property that can be confiscated and the purpose for which property can be confiscated.

“The current law permits confiscation of property without the need to petition the courts,” said Slomiansky, in defending the amendment. “If someone feels their property was taken improperly since he has no connection to the [terror] offense, he can turn to the court.” Slomiansky said he is working on compromise according to which the defense ministry will be allowed to confiscate small amounts from individuals, but will need to turn to the courts for more largescale confiscation, such as an apartment linked to a terror activist.