Opinion

After 51 Years of Tyranny in the Territories, Is It Any Wonder Israel Interrogates Its Critics at Airports?

You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs; we’ve broken lots of eggs for the sake of the settlements, and all we’ve got to show for it is a small, foul-smelling, toxic omelet

Moriel Rothman-Zecher.
\ Moti Milrod

Shin Bet security service interrogations of left-wing activists are nothing new. In 2007 Yuval Diskin, then-Shin Bet chief, declared that “the opinion of the service is that ‘subversion’ can also include an attempt to change the basic laws of the state,” and that the Shin Bet considers itself authorized to keep track of legal political activity and to use invasive “collection” tools for the purpose. But recent months prove that what in 2007 was cause for concern has become accepted practice in 2018 – the automatic interrogation when you leave or enter the country: “Did you pack by yourself? And this dirty laundry, where do you plan to wash it?”

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This week Moriel Rothman-Zecher was detained for a “cautionary conversation” at Ben­­­-Gurion International Airport, due to his involvement in Breaking the Silence and All That’s Left, two legal organizations, whose only sin is opposition to government policy in the territories. Last month Yehudit Ilani had the privilege of engaging in a similar heartwarming conversation because she covered the story of Gaza–bound flotilla for the Social Television Network. A month earlier Tanya Rubinstein, who participated in a conference organized by the Swedish Foreign Ministry, was detained.

Meyer Koplow, an American Jew who has donated millions to Israel, but who was found with a suspicious Palestinian pamphlet in his bag, underwent a similar interrogation. “What are you planning to do with the things you heard during your visit to the territories after you return to the United States?” the interrogator at Ben-Gurion asked Koplow, in a sentence that precisely sums up the purpose of these “conversations.”

The battle against delegitimization has become an insatiable monster. It has tentacles in the Foreign Ministry, the army, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Strategic Affairs Ministry, and of course – a department of its own in the Shin Bet. It’s the vague umbrella which provides cover for the most recent inquiries at the airport. Shin Bet agents invest resources in “friendly conversations” with left-wing activists.

In the name of the battle against delegitimization, even opposition to the government’s policy has become illegitimate. Right-wing activists repeatedly exercise violence against Palestinians and against the security forces. But the Shin Bet is apparently content with its disgraceful handling of these “price tag” attacks — to the extent that it feels it can afford to invest energy in dealing with the terrible threat of “the militias of those who wash their dirty laundry in public.”

In Israel, “washing one’s dirty laundry in public” has become an existential threat that whitewashes everything, from Shin Bet investigations to the most recent series of laws aimed at silencing voices. The house is filled with dirty laundry, but washing it is prohibited. That’s no coincidence. Israelis like to complain about Israel’s public diplomacy or hasbara, but it’s a huge success.

This Israeli enterprise has succeeded in defending 51 years of tyranny in the territories, a time when government’s arms have been devoted to stealing Palestinian land. And in spite of that, Israel is the target of a few toothless condemnations at most in the international arena. In that case, is it any wonder that Israeli “security” allows itself to interrogate political opponents?

Panait Istrati, a Romanian writer and publicist, was an enthusiastic supporter of the communist revolution, until he saw during a visit to the Soviet Union what it looked like from up close. When he expressed reservations, someone replied that you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

“All right,” replied Istrati, “I’ve seen the broken eggs. Now where’s your omelet?”

We’ve broken lots of eggs for the sake of the settlements, and all we’ve got to show for it is a small, foul-smelling, toxic omelet.