The police are joining WhatsApp groups used by protesters against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in order to gather information on them, law enforcement sources say.
Police intelligence coordinators also scan social media for information about protest leaders and about the counterprotesters against them. They also monitor social media networks to find "offensive" statements regarding police officers and identify people intending to commit crimes.
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According to several sources in law enforcement, the information gathering is intended to assist the police in preparing for and securing the demonstrations, in which thousands take to the streets to demand that Netanyahu step down in light of the criminal indictments against him.
The monitoring focuses mainly on demonstrations in the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv Districts; the Hof District, where protests at the the prime minister's private residence in Caesarea take place; as well as the Central District, home to Rosh Ha’ayin, where there have been protests at the residence of Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz.
In some cases, police dispatch intelligence coordinators to what they call "areas of public order," which include the ongoing demonstrations and protests against Netanyahu.
The police refused to confirm or deny using these methods, saying that a “a variety of legal tools” are used to prevent “violations of law and order.”
Protesters recently discovered that at least ten intelligence coordinators and police officers had joined WhatsApp groups related to the protests against Netanyahu, including a group documenting attacks on protesters and reports about them and groups used to plan demonstrations.
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Two of the police officers, who serve as intelligence coordinators, had joined 12 different groups. In one of the groups, which organizes demonstrations in Gantz's neighborhood, activists discovered the telephone number of an intelligence coordinator. He was removed from the group after members complained they were afraid to speak freely while he was present.
Activists in the field are also feeling the presence of police intelligence. In a recent incident, a senior intelligence coordinator approached one of the leaders of the protest against Netanyahu in Caesarea, Hanna Kuperman, and told her that he knew her – despite there being no prior contact between them.
The coordinator, who, like others in his position, wore civilian clothes, made it clear to Kuperman that he he is responsible for intelligence about the protests, but "not necessarily of the Black Flag movement or of the left." Kuperman noted that the coordinator addressed her by her first name and told her: "I thought I'd come to say hello to you. I know most of the demonstrators here. That's my job."
At another demonstration, Kuperman said, the intelligence coordinator told her: "I am at all the demonstrations, no matter when.” He added that he was familiar with the roughly dozen pro-Netanyahu counter-protesters.
The coordinator identified a Likud activist using a megaphone, noting that she was "very active on Facebook and other platforms. I see them online too. I also see you online. That's the job, it's nothing personal. I don't track anyone, God forbid. I have very clear lines and all I want is to know what the schedule is, how many protesters, and if there are intentions to disturb the peace. That's the job."
Kuperman said she was surprised by the intelligence coordinator's directness. "A reasonable person who is approached by an intelligence officer who starts talking to them and telling them that he knows them personally and follows them on social media will be scared," she said.
"Especially when I'm very active in the protest,” she added. “As if I should be careful and cautious. He is monitoring legitimate protests and activists who don't pose a risk to the public in any way. That doesn't seem right to me.”
A similar incident happened to a protester in Jerusalem, who told Haaretz that a plainclothes policeman approached him at a demonstration about three weeks ago. The officer addressed him by his first name, identified himself as the district's intelligence coordinator and asked him to exchange phone numbers with him so that they could coordinate. The protester, who had previously been arrested in connection with the demonstrations, said he refused the request.
The Crime Minister protest movement said that "once again, it has been proven that under Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, the police have become a political force in the service of a criminal suspect; a corrupt and failing prime minister. The police should focus on maintaining freedom to protest and protecting demonstrators.”
The police said they "work to prevent and deal with violations of law and order using a variety of legal tools available ... Beyond that, we don't intend to address the issue and there is nothing to confirm or deny regarding the content of the request [for comment].”