Netanyahu Wants a Weak Shin Bet Head

Zehava Galon
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National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 2020.
Zehava Galon

About two weeks ago, the prime minister tried to appoint his eunuch, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, chief of the Shin Bet security service. Defense Minister Benny Gantz blocked the move, forcing Benjamin Netanyahu to extend the term of outgoing Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman by several months. Ben-Shabbat was the “muscle” sent by Netanyahu to apply pressure to certain rabbis so that they in turn would pressure Naftali Bennett, for some short-term political need (who can remember which one?).

That same week we learned that the State Prosecutor’s Office had closed its investigation of three Shin Bet agents who ordered female soldiers to conduct a vaginal search of a Palestinian detainee. Per the usual practice by the prosecutor’s office in such cases, first they killed the investigation with delaying tactics – they fudged the case for four years – and then they announced that they had no way of knowing which of the three Shin Bet employees had given the order. The three are still at their jobs, and their superior was also not punished, of course.

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As Tali Shamir of the Public Committee Against Torture wrote in Haaretz Thursday, the state prosecution has investigated only two of the 1,300 complaints that have been submitted to the Justice Ministry department that reviews allegations of rights’ violations by the Shin Bet during interrogation. And these are only the Palestinians who even thought there was any point in complaining against our secret police. Most of them have more sense than to bother.

The secret police have “handled” far greater numbers of Palestinians; the use of torture during interrogation is known to all and has already turned into a joke – about investigators who use torture to get a rabbit to admit that it’s a bear. But it’s no joke for the millions of Palestinians who are under constant threat from our “captains” who control every detail in their lives, and are in charge of approving the permits that they need in order to survive in our despotic military regime in the territories.

And why was this shocking report received with overall silence, whereas the issue of Ben-Shabbat’s potential appointment found its way into every possible discussion? Because the Jewish majority in Israel knows how these things work: It knows what is required to maintain a 54-year-old dictatorship; that it’s necessary to impose constant terror on the population: surprise checkpoints, nighttime raids of the homes of innocent people under the cover of “mappings,” and the knowledge that at any moment you could be thrown into a cellar, tortured as a result of rumors and that in the end the prosecution will close the file.

Unfortunately for states, they need the secret police. In this witch hunt there really are witches: spies, traitors and terrorists. But when a secret police force comes into contact with the rule of law, the rule of law goes up in smoke. Democratic states must rein in their secret police mercilessly, because if they don’t the deep state – the term originally referred to the secret services – will destroy the state itself. We experienced that ourselves during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, when the Shin Bet was given free rein to surveil the population – to no avail. And it could be worse.

The Shin Bet began as a political police force: Under Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, it spied on Menachem Begin’s right-wing Herut party and even bugged planted microphones in the offices of the left-wing Mapam party. The Shin Bet conspired against Brig. Gen. YItzhak Mordechai and against the State Prosecutor’s Office itself in the so-called Bus 300 affair, in which Shin Bet agents executed two Palestinian bus hijackers after their capture. Allowing Netanyahu to appoint a neutered Shin Bet chief means returning to the days of Ben-Gurion. If Israelis desire liberty, the Shin Bet must be curbed. Unfortunately for us, we’re already familiar with it.

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