The Knesset will vote in first reading today on a government-sponsored counterterrorism bill. The bill, which has been floating around for years (during three different Knessets), will be voted on at a special recess session, during which votes will also be held on the budget and the accompanying Economic Arrangements Bill. This fact aptly symbolizes the many problems of the proposed law.
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Contrary to the claim made by the bills supporters in its explanatory notes — that its purpose is to enact a new, modern version of older legislation, much of which dates back to the British Mandate — the bill actually contains innovations and even genuine revolutions that contradict the fundamental axioms of criminal law. It makes many changes to existing laws, most of which make these laws more stringent.
The bill adopts existing legislative arrangements, which already grant the security services wide powers, and then adds various arrangements borrowed from other counterterrorism laws around the world. In most cases, it uses the strictest possible definitions, which ultimately results in a ridiculous bill in terms of the scope of the offenses, the legal procedures relating to arrests and administrative enforcement measures, the subordination of the rules of evidence, and the sweeping changes related to ancillary offenses.
As an example, take the addition of negligently abetting terror. According to the bill, someone who provides goods or services to a person involved in terrorism — even if he does so without realizing that the person is committing any crime, much less that he is terrorist — can be convicted of abetting terror, as long as its possible to assume that a reasonable person in his situation would have realized this.
This article violates a fundamental rule of criminal law, under which abetting is considered a crime only if the abettor was aware that a crime was being perpetrated or was slated to be perpetrated. The evidence that a reasonable person would have been aware of this can always be obtained with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight. And the laws broad definitions of the terms terrorist act and terrorist organization expand the circles of responsibility further and further, unnecessarily and in defiance of all logic.
This expansion does nothing to facilitate the battle against terror — a battle that is obviously completely justified. On the contrary, it undermines the moral validity of this battle, and thereby sabotages it. Instead, the bill should be treated as an opportunity to finally abolish the Emergency Defense Regulations, reconsider the Kafkaesque practice of administrative detention, and formulate tools that strike a balance between the need to maintain the security of the state and its citizens and the need to protect the right to due process.
Theres no reason to pass a law like this, even if only in first reading, during the recess, at the same time as the vote on the budget and the Economic Arrangements Bill, and without a thorough, meaningful public debate. One must hope that the Knesset will come to its senses and refrain from this disgrace.