Another Star Is Born, but the Shin Bet Remains a Cruel Organization

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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The incoming Head of Shin Bet Security Service Ronen Bar, on Monday.
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

It’s cyclical, every four or five years: The Shin Bet security service gets a new chief. The resume of a superstar, the looks of James Bond, all the old stories come out about his glory days in “the unit,” his bold “service.” Degrees from Harvard and from Tel Aviv. What a mind, people will say, an Israeli hero.

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Every important security position in Israel is invariably filled by “a highly-regarded officer.” They’re always highly regarded when they start. But it ends like Elazar Stern. This is especially true for new Shin Bet heads. They emerge from the shadows, which only adds to their aura. R. suddenly becomes Ronen Bar, and anyone who knew him as R. sings his praises. “Israel can count on him,” “You can follow him with closed eyes.” You never hear a single bad word about the new Shin Bet chief or IDF chief of staff. They are the closest thing we have to gods. The tight shirt, classy briefcase, house in the suburbs and groomed stubble are all a bonus in Bar’s case. As is the bizarre story about the burning car of an Arab Israeli whose flames R. put out with his hands on the way to becoming Ronen. What joy.

Whenever a Shin Bet or Mossad or IDF head is appointed, expectations and promises soar. Time goes by. It almost always ends in tears, shame, embarrassment or at least dismay. The mountains turn into molehills; in the end you’re left with Avi Dichter. When he was hired, we were also promised a star. He, too, was in “the unit” and in a “daring operation.” When they really come to light, at the end of their term, the darkness is revealed. “The unseen shield” is the Shin Bet motto, and perhaps the best idea is that its heads should not be seen – for their own good. Drab figures, clerks given a special aura for some reason. None has ever become a national leader. Several even got in trouble. Avraham Shalom gave the order to smash skulls (in the 1984 Bus 300 affair) and then lied and covered it up; Jacob Perry made money and had to leave politics in embarrassing circumstances; Carmi Gilon bore responsibility for Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination; Ami Ayalon seemed promising but faded away. Yuval Diskin occasionally resurfaces – nothing to write home about; Yoram Cohen is already forgotten, as Nadav Argaman will be soon.

True, we’ve matured a bit from worshiping generals, but not enough. In no other area is there the same kind of hoopla. Not in the economy or industry or science or politics, certainly not in intellectual life. But a new Shin Bet chief is always greeted with this kind of fanfare. The problem is that Israel not only forgets who is the subject here but, more importantly, what is the subject.

Not many countries take such pride in their secret services. Secret services are a necessary evil. In Israel, when the bulk of the Shin Bet’s activity involves sustaining the occupation by means of tyrannical control over an occupied people, the disgrace is particularly great. You can admire the Shin Bet for its successful operations, for its amazing capabilities and spectacular pyrotechnics. But ultimately, we’re talking about a despicable organization. One that does not rule out any means, one that tortures people and plays games with their lives, that exploits human weaknesses for its own purposes, that violates every individual right, that does not treat Palestinians as human beings, that snoops after them day and night, raids their homes and bedrooms, including the kids’ rooms, knows the color of their underwear; the Shin Bet is the sewage pipe from which the rotten stench of the occupation wafts.

The person who leads this agency may be a bold and eloquent Harvard graduate, even someone who is fluent in the language of democracy. But he heads a cruel organization that is not only concerned with Israelis’ security, but first and foremost with perpetuating the occupation. Without the Shin Bet there is no occupation, because there is no occupation without resistance, which the Shin Bet is ever ready to put with the most advanced means in the world. The people who perpetuate this horror are not worthy of any honor or respect, even when they wait tables at Tel Aviv’s Baghdad Café, as Bar once did).

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