Israel's Shin Bet Sets Up Panel to Determine Security Service's Role in Fighting Arab Crime

The team, headed by a senior Shin Bet official, is asked to examine to what extent the law allows the agency to be involved in issues that are beyond national security

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
A demonstration against violence in the Arab community, last month.
A demonstration against violence in the Arab community, last month.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

The Shin Bet security service will establish a team to determine the organization's involvement in fighting crime in Arab communities.

The team will decide which criminal offenses the agency can act against, as determined by the Shin Bet law. The team, which will be headed by a senior Shin Bet official, will also facilitate cooperation with the police.

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According to the Shin Bet Law, which regulates the agency's work, it can operate where there is a threat to state security or Israel's democratic institutions. The law also states that the Shin Bet may act to protect and advance "essential state interests."

Last week, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said that, according to the law, acting against criminal offenses and illegal weapons in the Arab community is not within the authority of the Shin Bet.

The team will assist the police in understanding the know-how the Shin Bet brings to the table, as well as how the forces can cooperate while remaining sensitive to the fact that an espionage agency's capabilities are being directed at civilians.

In conversations behind closed doors, the police said they wanted to be granted the means and the powers of the Shin Bet, so the latter would not actually be involved in fighting crime. This is not expected to happen, and both organizations are being careful to avoid needless tension, and stress that they will work together.

The team will be asked to present a blueprint to Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar that will also take into consideration the feasibility of the agency fighting crime in Arab communities.

Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar, on Monday.

Last week, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s bureau said that the Shin Bet will be cooperating with the army and the police on this issue. In response, the attorney general said that the powers of the Shin Bet have not been expanded, and it could not act against criminal offenders.

Bennett reiterated his statement, but in response to an approach by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Mendelblit wrote that acting against criminal offenses, even serious ones in the Arab communities, was not within the Shin Bet’s purview according to the legal descriptions of its purpose and functions.

Mendelblit said the Shin Bet would continue to work as usual “in certain aspects that relate to this phenomenon, which it deals with according to its purpose and functions.”

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