The defense ministers decision to outlaw the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel is based on the Defense (Emergency) Regulations from 1945, a draconian Mandatory law and relic of the colonial era that gives state authorities far-reaching powers. This law, a British inheritance that the Knesset itself never legislated, should be replaced by a modern law adapted for a democratic state that can deal with organizations involved in violence.
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When these authorities are still provided for, they should, as in any case when the regime violates basic rights, only be exercised when there is solid evidence of a danger to state and public security. In this case it is violating freedom of assembly, freedom of political expression and probably freedom of religion.
This is especially important in light of the declarations serious repercussions. Anyone who belongs to an outlawed organization, acts on its behalf, holds a job in it, does any work for it, attends one of its meetings or possesses one of its books, periodicals, fliers or any other publication may be prosecuted and sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. In addition to all this, anyone in possession of organization property must inform the finance minister, who is authorized to confiscate it.
If so, the declaration criminalizes and puts in serious danger of punishment all who maintain contact, however weak it may be, with the northern branch, despite the declarations of senior officials (quoted elsewhere in Haaretz). According to one of them, only a few of the members of the organization are involved in nationalist activity. This statement attests to the inappropriateness of outlawing an entire organization.
The fact that the leader of the northern branch, Raad Salah, was convicted of incitement to violence indicates precisely that the law provides the authorities with the tools for dealing with incitement to violence and terror based on evidence, without taking the present steps. The fact that the decision was made without a hearing, as the rules of natural justice demand, and without evidence against the movement being presented to its members, is disturbing.
The announcement stated that outlawing the movement was required in the name of state security, public safety and public order. The government announced that it had taken a vital step to prevent the loss of life. However, such proclamations do not jive with the statement by the head of the Shin Bet security service, Yoram Cohen, that the security services do not have any evidence linking the northern branch directly with terror activities.
While the Prime Ministers Office declared that the movement is a sister of Hamas and that there is close and secret cooperation between the two, it did not provide such evidence. Cohens statement, which also warned that the damage of the declaration would outweigh any benefit, casts much doubt that the required amount of evidence for such a decision exists.
The fact that the decision was made at the political level, while the professional ranks in charge of state security had reservations about it, raises the suspicion that the main motivation was political and not security related. If this is the case, it would be the basis for its invalidation.
It seems the timing of the decisions implementation, against the background of ISIS terror in Paris, is also political, and that the government sought to exploit it to tie in to terror by another Islamist body, while demonizing a sizeable movement and attempting to blur the difference between it and organizations like Hamas.
The governments claim that a significant part of recent terror attacks resulted from incitement by the movement does not attest to its involvement in terror attacks. In cases of suspicion of incitement to violence and terror, it is proper to implement relevant legal proceedings against those who do the inciting.
The Shin Bets assessment that the move will not only stir unrest but also drive the northern branch underground also attests to the danger of taking this step. When there is no real evidence of involvement in violence and terror, outlawing a political and religious organization is liable to miss the declared target of maintaining security and public order, and instead lead to radicalization and concealment.