Shin Bet Eases Stance on Questioning Israeli Political Activists Following Petition

‘Calling in political activists for friendly chats with the security service is not a practice that characterizes a democratic regime,’ the Association for Civil Rights in Israel says.

Oren Ziv / Activestills.org

The Shin Bet has told political activists they no longer have to come in for questioning under caution when asked to, the security service has informed the High Court of Justice.

The Shin Bet was responding to a petition by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel against its practice of calling in political activists for questioning under caution as people who might be charged with a crime.

Instead, activists will be reminded of their rights, and the Shin Bet will have to consult with its legal counsel before calling anyone in.

These changes are only valid for activities the Shin Bet considers might be “subversive” they do not apply for suspected terror activity or spying.

Still, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel is not satisfied with the change. Ahead of a hearing on the matter, it says the Shin Bet repeatedly oversteps its legal authority and violates constitutional rights including freedom of expression.

“These talks have a repeating pattern,” ACRI lawyers wrote in the 2013 petition, stating that people questioned by the Shin Bet are asked about their political activities, jobs and acquaintances, as well as about other activists.

Also, they are told that the Shin Bet knows many personal details about them and is following their activities. In many cases, they are asked to supply names and phone numbers of relatives or acquaintances.

“Calling in political activists for friendly chats ‘over a cup of tea’ with the security service is not a practice that characterizes a democratic regime,” the Association for Civil Rights in Israel stated in the petition, charging that the practice is meant to “deter citizens from participating in protests that the regime does not like.”

The petition cited the case of a field-worker in the Negev Coexistence Forum who in June 2012 received a call from a policeman who asked him to come to a police station, from where he was referred to a Border Police base. He was put in a room with someone who told him he was a member of the Shin Bet.

According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the field-worker was asked about his studies, work, friends, family and position on the Prawer Plan on resettling Negev Bedouin.

He then received another invitation, this one unsigned, to come to the police station. After the association sent an inquiry, the Shin Bet responded that he was not obliged to come in.

“This response attests to the urgent need for the honorable court to stop this harmful practice,” the association wrote. The petition mentions similar cases, including that of a left-wing activist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot.

The state, in its response ahead of the hearing, said the Shin Bet was still operating within its authority.