Not at Any Price

The war on crime is a pressing need but not all means are acceptable in this war.

On the instructions of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, the Justice Ministry has published a proposed amendment that would give police officers wide-ranging powers to body-search people in places prone to violence, even if there is no prior suspicion and no real evidence against those being searched.

Astonishingly, the Justice Ministry inserted the amendment into the Economic Arrangements Bill accompanying the budget, which led Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin to ask the ministry to remove it. "The arrangements bill has crossed every possible line," Rivlin said. "The arrangements bill cannot include amendments that have serious consequences for basic human rights, regardless of whether or not they have some connection to the budget." In response, the Justice Ministry said it would consider removing the amendment.

The war on crime, and particularly on the rising violence in places of entertainment, is indeed a pressing need. But not all means are acceptable in this war. Current law already permits a body search of anyone entering a public place. The Justice Ministry and police should make do with that.

The police already have sufficient means to operate in places of entertainment. And what would truly improve security is an increased police presence on the ground, not ever more invasive and harmful powers.

A few months ago, Haaretz reporter Nir Hasson described what is happening in Jerusalem's Rehavia neighborhood, where dozens of young neighborhood residents have been unnecessarily humiliated every night, without any real grounds for suspicion, by police officers conducting body searches on them - ostensibly to discover whether they were carrying drugs. Many young people have been humiliated in this way, and about 20 submitted complaints to the police, with the support of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

It is not necessary to amend the law in a way that would undermine human rights by humiliating and harming innocent citizens. And the way the attempt was made, through the back door of a budget-related bill, is even more galling.

The Knesset speaker should be commended for his initiative. Hopefully, the Justice Ministry will respond by promptly withdrawing its unnecessary amendment, which would do much more harm than good.