Shin Bet Has No Authority to Combat Arab Crime, Attorney General Says

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, last month
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, last monthCredit: Moti Milrod
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

The Shin Bet security service does not have the legal authority to fight crime in Israel's Arab community, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit wrote on Monday.

Mendelblit’s clarification came in response to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office that the Shin Bet would cooperate with the IDF and police on the matter. According to Mendelblit, the responsibilities of the Shin Bet have not been expanded, and it is not authorized to operate in ordinary criminal matters, including the gathering of illegal weapons.

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On Monday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett repeated his statement which was made originally during the first meeting of the ministerial committee for combatting violence in the Arab community. “The Shin Bet is once again enlisted for a national mission – the fight against the out-of-control violence in the Arab community,” he said at a conference held for outstanding Shin Bet employees.

However, in response to a query from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Mendleblit wrote: “ As for the matter of the Shin Bet’s involvement in handling [Arab crime], it must be made clear that the handling of crime is not within its purpose and role according to the Israel Security Agency Law,  even when it concerns the matter of serious crime in the Arab community.”

A demonstration of bereaved Arab mothers against violence, last monthCredit: Tomer Appelbaum

In response, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said that “the Justice Ministry’s response is important and contradicts the statements issued by the Prime Minister’s Bureau on the matter of the involvement of the Shin Bet in the matter of crime in the Arab community.

"The Association for Civil Rights will continue to monitor the matter closely, in order to ensure the Shin Bet is not brought in through the back door using creative interpretation of its authority,” the NGO added.

Mendelblit stressed that the Shin Bet will continue to operate as per usual, however it should be noted that the Israel Security Agency Law allows the cabinet to expand the Shin Bet’s authority in exceptional cases to civil aspects of a critical national interest, and that the organization's "purpose and role" does encompass some aspects of the Arab crime outbreak.

Mendelblit noted this clause in his letter, but said that that option is not being considered at this stage. Therefore, contrary to Bennett’s statements, the IDF and the Shin Bet will be given only a limited role in fighting crime in the Arab community, sources from the steering committee said on Sunday.

The Shin Bet’s role will be limited to aiding the police on intelligence matters and providing them with technological means, as well as fighting security crimes, as described in Israel's terror law, as it did among civilians during the riots that occurred in May. Neither the Shin Bet nor the IDF are slated to have any direct contact with civilians.

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