Haaretz WikiLeaks Exclusive / Shin Bet Chief, an Unlikely Advocate for Israel's Arabs

In a cable to his superiors, a former U.S. envoy noted in 2008 that the Shin Bet chief also said that many Israeli Arabs abuse their rights.

Many Israeli Arabs abuse their rights, Shin Bet security service director Yuval Diskin told the former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Richard Jones, in 2008, according to a cable sent by the American diplomat to Washington.

A summary of their conversation, classified as “secret,” was sent from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to the U.S. State Department on May 22, 2008. Its contents were meant to be revealed a decade later − in 2018. In his summary, the U.S. ambassador wrote: “Diskin and the ISA [American acronym for the Shin Bet] have been advocates within the government of Israel for doing more to reconnect Israeli-Arabs with Israel,” but “the many ideas Diskin and others have come up with to do this cost money, which the government of Israel does not have.”

diskin - Guy Raivitz - April 8 2011
Guy Raivitz

Other subjects discussed by them included the situation in the Gaza Strip and intelligence cooperation with Egypt. But what particularly interested the Americans was Israel’s attitude toward its Arab minority.

“Diskin initially expressed reluctance and discomfort answering the questions, explaining that how Israel treats its Arab citizens is its own internal matter,” wrote the ambassador to his superiors. “Then, opening up Diskin proceeded to spend the next 10 minutes describing his concerns about Israel’s Arab-Israeli population. Many of them ‘take their rights too far’ ... The Israeli-Arab political leadership is trying to take the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a new direction and give it a new ‘national color,’” the outgoing Shin Bet chief was quoted as saying. “Thankfully, they are not succeeding, and their efforts are not filtering down to the general public, which is more concerned with daily life.”

Diskin told Jones that the Shin Bet “is also monitoring other forms of extremism within Israel’s population, including Jewish extremists. He added that the Shin Bet is also aware that there are problems among Israel’s Bedouin and Druze.”

Terror ties

According to the ambassador’s account, Diskin said that the main challenge facing the Israeli government is how to “‘connect’ these people with the State of Israel. It is complex, as it requires them to live their daily lives in contradiction.” The Shin Bet chief said he believed that most Israeli Arabs want to live in Israel, and yet see themselves first as Arabs and sometimes as Muslims − but not as Israeli citizens per se.

Diskin reported that the Shin Bet “has been ‘constantly pushing and prodding’ the government to ‘prevent their issues from falling through the cracks,’” noting that in recent years the Shin Bet has taken upon itself the role of serving as a “voice for assisting Arab-Israelis constructively.” He noted, however, that the government is not able to furnish the funding required to implement Shin Bet initiatives.

Furthermore, Diskin explained that he had discussed the matter with President Shimon Peres, who had agreed with him on the need to create more high-tech jobs, openings at universities and training centers for Israeli Arabs. Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister, was also committed to these goals, he added.

The Shin Bet chief emphasized in his remarks that the overall quality of life of Israeli Arabs is better than that of Arabs in neighboring countries, according to the U.S. envoy: “Most of the time, he allowed, they have been loyal to the state over the previous 60 years, even including the 1967 and 1973 wars, and ‘waves of terror’ that followed.”

Diskin told the ambassador, according to the report, that “the percentage of families that have connections with ‘bad people on the other side doing bad things’ is very low.”
Referring to these so-called “bad people,” Diskin said that family reunification efforts help explain the increased involvement of Israeli Arabs in terror incidents.

“Most of the Israeli-Arabs who have caused problems were refugees who were given permits to re-enter Israel in order to reunify with family members ... They brought their bad ideas with them,” he remarked.

Diskin was quoted as saying that “allowing Palestinians to return over the past few years was foolish. The Bedouin have brought women with them from the Gaza Strip and Jenin, and now have many children. We need to manage this immigration in a controlled way. It is hard for us to absorb large quantities of people the way we have been doing these last few years.”

MK enemy visits

These remarks were made by Diskin in 2008. A year before, the Shin Bet published a report on its website that noted that “40 percent of all those involved in terror among Israeli-Arabs were Palestinians who received permission to live in Israel and Israeli identification cards because they married Israeli-Arabs.”

During a hearing of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee earlier this year, the Shin Bet chief − who is about to finish his tenure − reported an increase in Israeli-Arab involvement in terror, noting that the number of Israeli Arabs arrested on terror-related charges doubled in 2010 to 46.

One of the main challenges facing the Israeli government, Diskin was quoted as telling the U.S. ambassador, is Arab MKs who take advantage of their parliamentary immunity “in order to visit countries like Syria and mix with groups like Hizballah. These people are not spreading the democratic values of Israel,” but “are being co-opted by people like [Syrian President] Bashar Assad.”

Referring to former MK Azmi Bishara, founder of the Balad party, who left Israel after being suspected of spying for Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War, Diskin noted cynically that “Israel would ‘welcome his return.’” He said that Bishara could expect to sit in prison for many years if he returns.

In this context, Diskin also criticized the police for failing, in his view, to monitor the ties of Arab MKs with terrorist groups abroad.

Later on in their meeting, the U.S. ambassador and Shin Bet chief discussed American government stipends to Israeli-Arab students interested in studying abroad. The ambassador told his interlocutor that he would consider distributing such grants to Israeli Arabs recommended by the Shin Bet. Jones also said that Israeli Arabs and Druze who live in Israel must serve as “potential ‘bridges’ to Israel’s neighbors. In the future they could help to change thinking and promote reform in the Arab world.”