Israeli Army to Stop Monitoring Social Media in Fight Against COVID-19

Worried about eroding public trust, the Israeli military shies from coronavirus-curbing methods that could be seen as a violation of citizens’ rights

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Soldiers at work in a Home Front Command coronavirus epidemiological investigation center, in Ramle, September 29, 2020.
Soldiers at work in a Home Front Command coronavirus epidemiological investigation center, in Ramle, September 29, 2020.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The Israeli military announced on Wednesday it would no longer monitor posts on social media in Israel as part of its efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus. 

Israel's Military Intelligence has assisted the police in trying to break the chain of infection by monitoring social media posts to stop large gatherings, such as outdoor raves, as well as locating infected individuals who violated quarantine.

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In a number of recent cases, police were able to prevent planned events and penalize infected people who broke quarantine after receiving social media posts passed on by the military, as reported by Haaretz on Monday.

Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Sharon Afek, who said he was surprised by the media coverage, added that utilizing uniformed soldiers for this purpose is outside the bounds of the IDF's mission to contain the coronavirus.

Afek discussed the issue with Home Front Command chief Uri Gordin on Tuesday. Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi decided that the army will no longer monitor social media for this purpose. 

The military is wary of overstepping its boundaries when it comes to its role in the fight against the coronavirus, out of concern that it could be perceived as harmful to democracy.

A senior military official told Haaretz that “Maintaining public faith in the army, even under such extraordinary circumstances, is important to the IDF's General Staff."

The army figure who assisted the police wanted to think outside the box to help, the official said, “but we don’t think that this is a task that is suitable for the army. If the police need help with enforcement, it can carry out this specific activity itself or privatize it and use a civilian company.”

This is the second time that the chief of staff and the military advocate general have intervened to restrict controversial actions by the army in its efforts to help contain COVID-19.

In early October, Haaretz reported that soldiers who were commanded to accompany police patrol vehicles enforcing the second lockdown found themselves involved in conflicts between the police and protesters against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. After the report, the army and the police agreed that soldiers would be replaced by Border Police personnel in backing up police patrols.

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