Don’t Allow Stop and Frisk

Upholding human rights means police can only search a person when there is concrete suspicion. The volatile security situation should not change this fundamental approach.

Haaretz Editorial
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Police officers stop and search a man at the entrance to the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, October 13, 2015.Credit: AFP
Haaretz Editorial

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday approved a bill that would let the police stop and frisk anyone, even if they aren’t suspected of committing a crime or carrying a weapon, which means the bill goes to the Knesset with government backing.

The proposal, submitted by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, aims to circumvent a Supreme Court ruling disallowing the introduction into court of evidence obtained by a search conducted without the subject’s informed consent, if there were no reasonable grounds for conducting the search.

Israeli police officers already have wide latitude to search a person who is deemed suspicious. The current proposal will expand their freedom of action in certain types of establishment that are “violence-prone,” such as bars, nightclubs and pool halls. The bill in effect expands the area where the law would apply to include places that are “adjacent to” bars, nightclubs, athletic facilities and the like.

In addition, the bill would allow the police district commander to temporarily declare a venue where alcohol is sold or served as a place where searches can be conducted even in the absence of any concrete suspicion. These provision would expand police powers and infringe on the rights of the individual.

The bill has been under discussion for five years, and was in the past promoted as a solution to violence at nightclubs. It now appears that the government is exploiting the wave of terror in order to get the bill passed. This, even though recent days have demonstrated the danger of “marking” individuals as suspects without grounds — an error that can lead to the loss of innocent life, as in the case of Haftom Zarhum, an Eritrean national who died after being shot and beaten during a terror attack in Be’er Sheva, when he was thought to be a perpetrator.

Based on past experience, there is good reason to suspect that the authority to search without reasonable suspicion will be invoked primarily against the “usual suspects” in Israel, such as Arabs and asylum seekers, based on unacceptable ethnic profiling.

In 2010 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that similar stop-and-search authorities granted to British police officers were illegal. Citing figures showing these powers were used mainly against people of African or Asian appearance, the court said the policy was liable to be used arbitrarily.

Upholding human rights means the police can only search a person when there is a concrete suspicion concerning the individual. The volatile security situation should not change this fundamental approach. It would behoove the Knesset to withdraw this bill from its agenda.