Editorial |

Israeli Government Is Invading Our Privacy Under the Guise of Battling Coronavirus

Haaretz Editorial
Israeli security forces in the largely ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, which became a coronavirus hot spot, April 2020.
Israeli security forces in the largely ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, which became a coronavirus hot spot, April 2020. Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Haaretz Editorial

Under the cover of the fight against the coronavirus, the Israeli government has allowed itself to deploy the security services against Israeli citizens, using these agencies to track people and gather data about them – supposedly to locate those suspected of being coronavirus patients or carriers – while riding roughshod over their right to privacy. Predictably, once this line has been crossed, it’s hard to go back.

From the start, “national security” has been a vague term subject to interpretation; the battle against the coronavirus is also a civilian one. It was only a matter of time before the National Security Council started wondering how the state would be able to halt the spread of the virus if there were growing social unrest due to the public’s worsening economic, psychological and health condition.

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Two weeks ago, the council had already discussed the possibility of a popular revolt and how the government could prevent an uprising against the authorities. Among other things, it considered how the state “could forestall dangers that could lead to widespread social unrest” that might spark protests against the government and state institutions.

It turns out that soldiers and officers from one of Military Intelligence’s classified intelligence gathering units gathered data and analyzed it for the task force that the National Security Council appointed for this purpose. One of the task force’s recommendations was an “awareness campaign” to prevent the development of social unrest (Yaniv Kubovich, April 24). This is further proof that when you start using tactics that the state normally reserves for fighting its enemies, you start thinking of the citizenry as a danger to the state.

One proposal to forestall such a popular revolt was for the government to set up a task force that would be responsible for assessing “the public’s situation” and work to raise people’s consciousness of “being in the same boat,” “equal treatment,” “a shared fate” and “mutual responsibility.” This is a farce. Instead of worrying about raising people’s consciousness, the government should allocate budgets and other resources that could prevent social unrest.

More than 1.25 million Israelis have joined the ranks of the unemployed; businesses have closed; the elderly are isolated; the kids are at home; and the economy is heading for disaster. These are real problems that require real solutions, not New Age pap about altering people’s consciousness.

It turns out that all the people who raised an outcry upon discovering that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had received permission to monitor Israelis by means usually reserved for the war on terror were right. All the people who warned about the slippery slope Israel could find itself sliding down were right too.

The people’s message to the government must be unequivocal: The state belongs to its citizens. Get out of our cellphones and our consciousness. State agencies and the security services must stop monitoring Israeli citizens and thinking of them as potential enemies. Instead, they should start working for the public to justify their salaries, which the public pays.

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

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