Israeli Lawmakers Say Police Misled Them About Controversial Stop and Frisk Law

A Knesset committee has refused to extend the use of the law, which MKs claim was rarely used as intended

Police officers watch as participants in the gay pride parade march in Jerusalem, July 21, 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

A Knesset committee refused to extend the controversial "Stop and Frisk Law" for another three years, against the wishes of the police. The law was enacted in February 2016 as a temporary emergency measure and allowed the police to conduct body searches of passersby, even if they are not suspected of committing a crime, in order to prevent terror incidents.

Since the law was passed by the Knesset, it has been invoked only six times: five times during gay pride marches and another time during an Id al-Fitr celebration in the greater Tel Aviv area.

The law permitted the police to frisk anyone who acts like a bully, resorts to verbal violence or threats or exhibits frightening behavior. The legislation was also applicable to individuals frequenting entertainment venues – if there was a reasonable suspicion of potentially violent behavior and approval from the district police commander.

One after another, lawmakers in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee harshly criticized the police, which never used the law to prevent terror attacks around Jerusalem or near the Green Line. Yael German of Yesh Atid said she felt the police did nothing less than deceive her. “They took a law meant to deal with terrorism matters, in very specific circumstances, and exceeded all the boundaries in favor of police work that they certainly think is appropriate – but I don’t think it is,” said German.

German told Law Committee Chairman Nissan Slomiansky of Habayit Hayehudi that it was lucky he required the police to report on the use of the law, “otherwise they would have completely deceived us and the public.”

“It was clear to me that this is what would happen,” said Habayit Hayehudi’s Bezalel Smotrich. “They took advantage of the fact there was knife terrorist attacks and everyone was in fear. In my opinion, we need to take it off the agenda.”

The temporary law expired at the end of December and is no longer in use by the police. The committee decided not to extend the law for now and to hold a session in Slomiansky’s office to examine any potential changes – or revoke it entirely.

Benny Begin of Likud told the committee that this shows how necessary it is to exercise caution when granting authority to the government in general, and not just to the police. “In the end, we want them to use their authority according to the law,” said Begin. The Knesset’s intention in passing the law was quite clear, he said, and without the report demanded by the committee, the Knesset would not have known how the police made use of it. “This is a lesson for the future,” added Begin. He asked whether police legal advisers had formulated written legal opinions about the use of the law.

United Torah Judaism’s Uri Maklev asked for data on how many people were searched during the instances when the law was invoked. Slomiansky opposed the request, saying it did not matter whether the police had written legal opinions on law’s use since in any case it was not used for the purposes for which it was approved.

The legal adviser of the Public Security Ministry, Yoel Hadar, objected to the accusations that the police had deceived the Knesset. He said that while it is possible that the wording of the law may need to be clarified, that the police used it in a limited and appropriate fashion. “We will sit and find something more appropriate,” he added.

Police representatives told the committee that the use of the Stop and Frisk Law during gay pride parades was in order to prevent terror attacks against the participants, but German called this explanation a “lame excuse.”