The Shin Bet security service stopped an author and left-wing activist at the airport, questioned him about his opinions and political connections and warned him about the “slippery slope” that could lead him to dangerous places and confrontations with the authorities. There were times when such instances would be linked to undemocratic countries like China, Russia, Iran and Egypt, which see freedom of expression and the right of protest as threats to the regime. Now it’s happening in Israel, which calls itself as the only democracy in the Middle East.
The details related this week by Moriel Rothman-Zecher about his detention at Ben-Gurion Airport ought to disturb everyone, even those who object to the activities of protest groups like Breaking the Silence. From his report it emerges that he, an Israeli citizen who lives in the United States, was not suspected of any illegal activity; he was asked about his links to perfectly legal organizations and was essentially warned that his activities make him a legitimate target for the Shin Bet (“Israeli author questioned by Shin Bet at Ben-Gurion Airport over involvement in leftist groups,” July 30). His interrogator also asked for the names of “the main activists” in All That’s Left, which he refused to provide.
This is not a singular case; there have been a series of reports indicating that the Shin Bet and the border guards are turning Israel’s entry points into a filter designed to remove those whose opinions are suspicious or problematic in the eyes of the government. Last week a U.S. citizen, a senior member of the Jewish community who supports and donates to Israel, was reportedly detained at the airport when a pamphlet from Bethlehem with the word “Palestine” on the cover was found in his suitcase. One word is now sufficient to make someone a suspect, worthy of a humiliating delay and harassing questions.
If there is a “slippery slope,” it’s the state, its elected officials, its employees and the defenders of its borders that are walking on it. It began with the automatic and indiscriminate delay of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, degenerated into blacklists of BDS supporters whose entry was banned and is now slipping into Israelis being questioned because of their political views.
This is not a local initiative, but a faithful expression of government and coalition policy: to label protest organizations in general and those who work against the occupation in particular as hostile to Israel and ascribe to them an intent to harm and betray it. The questioning of Rothman-Zecher is a warning shot aimed at like-minded people in the hope they’ll take note and be deterred.
According to the Shin Bet, the investigators acted “to fulfill the mission” of the security service. It seems that the questioning of Israelis about their political opinions is being conducted with permission and authority. But what happens in the airport doesn’t stay there; if policemen and investigators are not restrained, it won’t be long before citizens with opinions the government disapproves of will be woken by knocks on the door in the middle of the night, as in the most benighted of countries.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.
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