The essential foundation of a democratic regime is trust between the citizens and the state institutions. The decade of rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cronies broke this trust. The Knesset also contributed to the shattering of its own status and to the transfer of tremendous power to the government. It was the Knesset that waived its power and lost the ability to oversee the government, and the government dealt a mortal blow to our human rights. The new government and Knesset will have to take on the Herculean task of rehabilitating the public’s trust in its country.
The main system that requires rehabilitation is the kingdom of secrecy of our security state. In the past week the country has been in turmoil surrounding the terrible case of the military intelligence officer who was found dead in his prison cell. We learned, once again, that the system can “disappear” a person, and can operate secret courts, with select lawyers who are the only ones authorized to see the information and to handle an ostensibly legal process in the dark. In such a “trial” there is no trust. In a situation where there is no knowledge, there are conspiracy theories – and conspiracy undermines the basic trust necessary for a democracy.
Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi defended the army’s actions in the affair in a conference organized by the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya and the National Security College: “Everything we did [the arrest and the conditions in which he was held] was done in order to safeguard his privacy and that of his family, in order to treat them fairly.” In my response I said at the conference that if we want to prevent erosion in public trust, it is unconscionable for Israel to have detainees or prisoners whose existence is known only to the defense establishment, and that this is a blow to transparency and to the public’s right to know.
The defense establishment entered our lives in the past year in an unprecedented manner. Under the aegis of the COVID-19 crisis, the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service spied on all citizens, and we soon discovered how the “special methods” worked: We got in-depth espionage, but it didn’t lead to solutions. When the courts hear the magic word “security” they stand at tense attention, and human rights go by the wayside.
Another system that is in urgent need of rehabilitation is the police force. The citizen knows that he can’t expect anything from the police; that it’s a rotten and corruption-riddled body, which exercises the powers at its disposal largely in order to protect itself. In recent days the police investigated citizens who ostensibly violated gag orders against publishing the name of a policeman infamous for his violence, consistently abused activists in the anti-Netanyahu demonstrations, and is now also suspected of shooting a girl in East Jerusalem, in her home, for no reason. The police defended the policeman rather than the citizens who were harmed by him.
A third system is the rabbinate, which … forget it, there’s no point in reform here. Simply dismantle it. The role of the state is to protect the human rights of all its inhabitants and of those subject to its rule. When it operates otherwise, it undermines its very existence – which is based on public trust.
I call on the Knesset to adopt the draft bill of the Zulat think tank, which would significantly increase Knesset oversight of the defense establishment and allow for a balance between security needs and the public’s right to know. Afterwards we will need similar systems relating to the police and other organizations.
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The Knesset has betrayed this role in recent years. The time has come for members of Knesset to understand the extent of the danger and to start making changes. The incoming government will be full of tensions and problems, but it must remember that this is its supreme role: to reestablish public trust.