Shin Bet Using Forbidden Scare Tactics Against Right-wing Activists

Israel's security agency violating High Court ruling by failing to inform persons called in for 'warning talks' of their rights

Elkana Picard in a Jerusalem court in 2014.
Alon Ron

The Shin Bet security service has been summoning right-wing activists for so-called warning talks without making it clear that they have the right to refuse the summons, according to activists' allegations and recordings that have reached Haaretz. This practice has continued despite the High Court of Justice's having explicitly forbidden it.

The conversations are meant to deter the activists summons from extreme political actions and from making contact with the "hilltop youth," radical Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

In February, in response to a petition by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the High Court laid down clear rules for summoning political activists for warning talks with Shin Bet agents. Activists can be summoned only after “consultations with the Shin Bet’s legal advisor,” and only if “it is made clear to the person being questioned that the interview is voluntary," the ruling said.

Moreover, the summons cannot be issued on the same form used to summon individuals to mandatory interviews, and the subject must be informed “that this is not an investigation.” Anyone who chooses to report for questioning must be informed by the Shin Bet agent that, as they are not being questioned under caution, nothing they say can be used against them in court.

In March, a policeman phoned right-wing activist Elkana Picard, from the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, and told him to report to Shai (West Bank) District headquarters for questioning before noon the same day. When Picard, whom the security services suspect of being in contact with extremist settlers, objected, the officer responded, “I’m telling you it’s happening today.”

He declined to say what the “investigation” was about, but insisted that Picard must show up and even threatened to send a patrol car for him if he refused.

Only at the end of the conversation, after Picard had asked several times, did the policeman first say, “If you don’t want to come, that’s your full right.”

Picard did decide to go, and discovered that “it wasn’t an investigation, but a warning talk” conducted in tandem by the police and the Shin Bet. First the policeman spoke, then he left the room, and the Shin Bet agent came in.

The latter “threatened me; he asked me to make sure order is maintained in [Yitzhar], that there not be problems,” Picard said. ”And if I didn’t make sure of this, he’d send me away and harm my livelihood” that is, obtain an injunction barring Picard from Yitzhar.

“He said this explicitly: ‘I’ll keep you away from your workers, hurt your livelihood,’” Picard continued. “And incidentally, this happened; to this day, I’m barred” from Yitzhar.

Picard’s lawyer, Menashe Yadoo of Honenu, an Israeli nonprofit organization that provides legal aid to Jewish terror suspects, complained to the Shai District’s legal department over this summons, which rejected the complaint. The department insisted that Picard was informed that his attendance was voluntary. It also said that when the Shin Bet found out about the summons and asked to join the meeting, police told agency officials “that they couldn’t participate in the warning talk, but after it ended, if the subject agreed to talk with them, this might be possible.”

Shmuel Adani, also a right-wing activist, had a similar experience in July. First, a policeman called and asked him to attend a meeting at the police station without saying what it was about, his lawyer Chaim Blaycher, also from Honenu, said. Adani, who was suspicious, asked to receive the summons in writing. “And indeed, on July 30, he was sent a letter summoning him for questioning by the police,” Blaycher said.

Adani said that when he arrived, “Someone brought me into a room and said, ‘Hi, I’m Shlomi from the Shin Bet.’ He searched me to make sure I wasn’t recording anything, then said, ‘I want to ask you a few questions.’”

Shlomi asked about the yeshiva that Adani had attended in the settlement of Shavei Shomron. Adani then demanded to know whether this was an investigation, and Shlomi responded, “No, I want to meet you, talk to you,” Adani said.

“At some point he told me, ‘You can go,’ but when I got up to go, he said, ‘I didn’t mean you should go; give me half a minute to talk with you.’ Then he said, ‘Okay, you can go.’ I don’t know what they wanted from me,” Adani related.

“The main problem,” Blaycher said, “is that he was forced to come, because this came disguised as an investigation. The moment the document said ‘investigation,’ he had no choice. So in the end, they forced him to have this conversation with the Shin Bet. In practice, during the conversation itself, they also gave him no opportunity to leave.

“The High Court ruled that this should be completely voluntary,” he added. “That’s not what happened here.”

The Shin Bet insisted that it acts “in accordance with the Supreme Court’s ruling.”

But ACRI’s legal advisor, Dan Yakir, said the agency seemed to be violating the court’s rules, as practices like those described by the activists “effectively deceive the citizen and infringe on his free will.”

“The key rule, in our view, is that whether the summons is issued by the Shin Bet directly or via the police, the issuing party must make clear that this is a voluntary interrogation, that it’s not necessary to attend, that this isn’t an investigation but a conversation, and that he can choose not to attend,” Yakir said. “And even if the person chooses to attend, he can leave the conversation at any moment, and it’s forbidden to prevent him from doing so.”

He must also be told that nothing he says can be used in court, Yakir added.

Yakir said ACRI objects even to voluntary summonses because the Shin Bet and the police have so much more power than ordinary citizens that the person summoned will often be afraid to refuse. “But if they don’t even tell him it’s voluntary, and that he has the right to refuse, then they’re infringing on his autonomy, on his free will by not even giving him a chance not to cooperate with the Shin Bet.”