The Knesset approved on Tuesday a toned-down version of a controversial law on expanding police power to carry out body searches.
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The so-called stop-and-frisk law – which the permits police to frisk a person if there is a “reasonable suspicion that he is about to commit a violent offense, in order to check whether he is carrying an illegal weapon” – was approved in the second and third readings. At the same time, an interim order was also passed by the parliament, to the effect that police will be able to conduct a body search in the absence of a reasonable suspicion, based only on the “fear” that a person intends to commit an act of terror.
According to the final version of the law, initiated by the Internal Security Ministry and supported by 39 MKs with 31 opposed, anyone who acts like a bully, resorts to verbal violence or threats, or exhibits frightening behavior may be frisked. The legislation will also be applied to individuals frequenting entertainment venues – if there is indeed a reasonable suspicion of potentially violent behavior and approval from the district police commander. In cases where there is such a suspicion of someone who is about to perpetrate a terror attack, the individual will be searched in a place determined by the commander.
Opposition members argued at the Knesset debate that the new law will serve to increase discrimination against minorities in Israel, who nearly always arouse a reasonable suspicion among policemen.
The original legislation dates to 2011, but discussion on it was discontinued after it passed the first reading, as part of a series of laws designed to fight violence in various places of business. It listed a series of venues (nightclubs, pubs, discotheques, billiard clubs, etc.) where the police could conduct extensive body searches, even without a reasonable suspicion, subject to the approval of the district commander and to posting an explanatory sign at the entrance to those places.
Recently, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan decided to reactivate the draft bill and adapt it so that it can be applied in the fight against the present wave of terror.
Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi) presented the compromise version that was reached in discussions involving MKs and representatives of Erdan's ministry. Slomiansky said that the proposal approved on Tuesday takes into account the needs of the police while preserving human dignity.
The vote was preceded by a long discussion during which opposition members expressed a series of reservations. “The coalition is once again ignoring the daily distress of weakened groups who experience harsh discrimination in Israel,” said MK Michal Rozin (Meretz), adding that police will automatically suspect minorities including Arabs, the ultra-Orthodox, and persons of Ethiopian and Russian origin.
For his part, MK Dov Khenin (Joint Arab List) said, “[Body] searches without a reason and without limits don’t protect the public’s welfare and security. This won’t provide security but will augment the harm to individual rights, and the mistrust between the police and many populations in Israel. Overly zealous searches will also lead to more incidents of sexual harassment of women.”
Declared MK Jamal Zahalka (Joint Arab List), who was harshly critical of the step: “This law sends a message to policemen – do whatever you feel like. The law must tell the policeman that he cannot do whatever he wants. The heart of the present law is to give free rein.”