Fighting Crime in Israel's Arab Community Is Not the Shin Bet's Job

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Naftali Bennett and Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman.

The problem of illegal weapons in Arab communities needs to be resolved. This is an issue that must get the highest priority on the nation’s agenda. Dozens of fatalities and hundreds of people wounded annually are a reality that requires special attention and a general mobilization by decision makers. But decision makers, headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, are choosing a dangerous, erroneous path by trying to involve the Shin Bet security service in this problem.

Bennett, along with Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, believe the Shin Bet’s involvement is necessary since there are concerns that these weapons will be used in confrontations of an “ultra-nationalist” nature. The violent incidents in mixed Arab-Jewish cities during Operation Guardian of the Walls serve as evidence supporting such concerns, since some of the people suspected of being involved were traced using information coming from the Shin Bet (according to a report by Haaretz’s Josh Breiner).

However, Bennett and Bar-Lev are treading on forbidden ground. The Shin Bet is not meant to deal with criminal cases, even if politicians wish to stretch their definitions to include “nationalist-based issues.” The argument that illegally-held weapons could be used for political purposes is not a convincing one. A Jewish citizen holding an illegal weapon could also employ it during tense times to harm Arab citizens. Is the Shin Bet also being asked to track and surveil Jewish citizens in Israel?

It’s not a coincidence that Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman is opposing this move, even if unofficially. One could gather this from the organization’s reaction, which included a detailed listing of its roles, with none of them being the handling of criminal activities that include the use of weapons inside Israeli sovereign territory.

This is not the first time politicians have tried to involve the Shin Bet in issues that are not meant to be under its purview. This happened with the tracing of people using their mobile phones during the coronavirus epidemic, when the government demanded that the Shin Bet get involved, despite the organization’s expressed reluctance to do so.

It’s not just Argaman who’s opposing this move. The Attorney General’s Office says it would be a violation of the law. Despite attempts to stretch definitions by Bennett and Bar-Lev, the problem of illegal weapons does not come under the definition of “prevention and thwarting of illegal operations meant to harm state security or the democratic regime and its institutions.”

Instead of marking Arab citizens as those trying to harm state security, Bennett should treat this problem as a civil one of the highest national priority. Instead of trying to restore the atmosphere of the long-gone military government to the streets of Arab cities, Bennett would do better to formulate a plan that included realistic goals and the allocation of abundant resources, doing so in collaboration with leaders of Arab society.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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