Israeli Author Questioned by Shin Bet at Ben-Gurion Airport Over Involvement in Leftist Groups

Moriel Rothman-Zecher, who lives in the U.S., says his interrogator told him he should think of their conversation as a warning: 'It's a slippery slope'

Yotam Berger
Yotam Berger
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Moriel Rothman-Zecher.
Moriel Rothman-Zecher.Credit: \ Moti Milrod
Yotam Berger
Yotam Berger

An Israeli citizen who has lived in the United States for the past ten months was held up at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv by Shin Bet security service officials for a "cautionary conversation" because of his involvement in left-wing organizations.

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Moriel Rothman-Zecher, 28, had come for a visit with his wife, Kayla, and their infant daughter, who was born in the United States. Mrs. Rothman-Zecher and the couple's daughter went through security without problems, but not Moriel.

Officials stressed that he was not suspected of anything and that the nature of the conversation was a general warning, according to Rothman-Zecher. He said he was asked, among other things, about his involvement in the left-wing organizations Breaking the Silence, an anti-occupation veterans' NGO, and All That's Left, an anti-occupation collective.

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Rothman-Zecher said that after waiting for two hours, he was conducted to a conversation with a man who presented himself as "gever from the Shin Bet." It should be noted that while "gever" means "guy" in Hebrew, it could also be a personal name. According to Moriel, the investigator then asked him where he came from, what he does and why he had not served in the army. "I said it was an ideological choice," Moriel noted.

Passengers arrive at the departures hall of Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv

After some time, Rothman-Zecher said, he asked the interrogator why the conversation was taking place. "He asked, 'Have you ever run afoul of the law?' I said, 'yes, I was arrested a few times in Hebron and in East Jerusalem I was part of a nonviolent demonstration.'"

According to Moriel, the investigator then asked him what organization he belongs to, to which he answered: "I don't belong to any organization, I haven't been at a demonstration in over a year, but when I was in Israel, I went to all sorts of things and activities of left-wing organizations with which I identify." The interrogator then asked him who he identified with. "With organizations that use nonviolent tactics to bring about a better future," Rothman-Zecher said he told the man.

Moriel was then asked about his identification with Breaking the Silence and whether he attended their activities. "I hesitated a moment," Moriel recollected. "He said, 'Breaking the Silence isn't illegal.' I said, 'Yes, I know.' He said, 'What if Breaking the Silence were to organize a tour of Hebron? Would you go?' I said, 'Yes,'" Moriel recollected.

The conversation proceeded to focus on the organization All That's Left. "I think that's why I was stopped," Moriel said. "I told him that it isn't an organization, it's a collective of young Jews who believe in equality between Israelis and Palestinians. Then he said, 'Oh, they bring guys from overseas to make trouble here.' I said, 'they don't bring anybody from anywhere. It's people who are here, or who came to visit, and do something.' I told him there's no leader." According to Moriel, the interrogator then asked for names of "main activists." Moriel said he refused.

"Then he told me," Rothman-Zecher said, "'I'm not from the police. I'm called Gever from the Shin Bet. I deal with what we call the extreme right and extreme left.' I said, 'okay, what does that mean?'"

According to Rothman-Zecher, the investigator explained that with "extreme right," he meant the likes of Baruch Goldstein, an American-Israeli settler who shot dead 29 Muslim worshippers and wounded 125 in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, or people such as those who burned Palestinian teenager Abu Khdeir and the Dawabshe family to death.

"I told him, 'you compare people who burn families to death to the organizations you named?' He said, 'I didn't say you were extreme left. I just said what I do.'"

At the end of the conversation, Rothman-Zecher said, the interrogator told him that he should think of the conversation as a warning. "I just wanted to invite you for a conversation, which is our right to do. Think of it as a warning, because it's a slippery slope. You go to a legitimate, nonviolent protest, and then you might slip into something more violent and less okay. So I'm glad to hear you don't resort to violence and you're against violence. It could be a slippery slope. I think you're a good person and I just wanted to talk with you," Rothman-Zecher quoted the investigator as saying.

"What happened to me happens to every Palestinian every day," Moriel concluded.

The Shin Bet Security Services said in response: "Mr. Moriel Rothman was questioned by the Shin Bet in order to fulfill its mission and carry out its duty in accordance with its authority under the law." Rothman-Zecher’s lawyer, Gaby Lasky, said: “The fact that Shin Bet investigators wait for Israeli citizens, whose only crime is involvement in human rights organizations, in order to caution them ought to keep us all awake at night. This government is apparently introducing the norms of a thought police and trying to intimidate normative citizens so they’ll cease their civic engagement.”

Rothman-Zecher is the third Israeli to be held up at Ben-Gurion Airport in recent months and asked about his involvement in left-leaning organizations. In June, Yehudit Ilana was stopped after covering the Gaza flotilla in May 2010 for "Social Television," a Hebrew-language news site identified with the left. She said she had no connection with the organizations behind the flotilla and added that she returned to Israel from Europe after disembarking from the flotilla boat there. In May, Tania Rothstein was held up upon her return from a Swedish Foreign Ministry conference in Sweden.

The Shin Bet violated a High Court of Justice ruling this month by summoning a left-wing activist for questioning without telling him that he wasn’t obliged to come. The interrogator, who introduced himself as Geva, said he was the agency’s coordinator for the radical left and delegitimization in the Kiryat Arba area. Daniel Kronberg of Jerusalem, an activist in the group Ta’ayush and executive editor of the Hebrew University’s Israel Journal of Mathematics, told Haaretz that in early July he received a call from a man who said he worked for the Defense Ministry. The man asked Kronberg to meet with him at the Moriah police station in Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood

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