Defining Breach of Trust

MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima) tried to convince the Knesset last Wednesday that his bill to allow searches of MKs for security investigation purposes is not connected to the Azmi Bishara affair.

"I decided to do this long after that affair, in case someone might think it is connected to something that happened in the past," said Schneller. "This is connected with Israel's security in the future, not the past."

It is difficult to say that he convinced Balad faction leader Jamal Zahalka. "Of course no one thinks that MK Schneller presented the bill because of the affair involving MK Azmi Bishara," said Zahalka. "Absolutely everyone believed him."

Even so, there is no doubt that Schneller took his time. A tidal wave of "Bishara" laws has already flooded the Knesset in its summer session. Schneller says that he waited, among other reasons, because he wanted to understand the Bishara affair properly, and the ramifications of his hasty departure from Israel. His investigations found that it would not have been possible to conduct a search of Bishara's luggage or his house, and to prove the suspicions against him, due to the 1951 Knesset Members Immunity, Rights and Duties Law.

Schneller believes that his law is balanced. It allows only the police commissioner or the head of the Shin Bet to file a petition for a search warrant against an MK, with the approval of the attorney general, and only a Supreme Court Justice can approve such a warrant.

"Let's forgo immunity altogether," said MK Dov Khenin (Hadash), in response, declaring that this is one of a series of insane laws that are being passed by MKs and are likely to harm them first.

"The Knesset has lost its self-defense mechanism," continued Khenin, stressing that this law would affect right-wing MKs, too. The bill, by the way, passed its preliminary reading with the coalition's support, by a majority of 36 to 8.

Bishara laws include bills whose goal is to revoke the economic rights of MKs convicted of criminal offenses, reduce the scope of MK immunity, and facilitate the ousting of MKs who act against the State of Israel as a Jewish state. The bill closest to becoming law is the one submitted by MK Gilad Erdan (Likud), which will enable a court to revoke the citizenship of anyone who breaches Israel's trust. Erdan has already passed this bill on its first reading, and it seems unlikely that anyone will stop him on its way to enactment via second and third readings in the current Knesset session.

Balad MKs are certain that the moment the law is passed, proceedings will be opened to revoke Bishara's citizenship. The bill, however, is not without problems. A person's citizenship can be revoked without a conviction, without the presence of the person being judged, and even without presenting classified evidence. To top it off, the bill does not define breach of trust. Knesset Interior and Environment Committee Chair Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor) says he will consider including a definition of this term in committee discussions, prior to the second and third readings.

Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann was not whitewashing anything. In March 2007 he admitted to the Knesset plenum that of the 129 torture complaints filed against Shin Bet Security Services interrogators in 2005-2006, not one of them was relayed for investigation by the department for investigating policemen, and therefore no indictments had been filed, either.

This information was provided by Friedmann in response to a question by Khenin. Khenin raised the possibility that the reason no complaints had been investigated was that the complaints were examined by the Mavtan (Shin Bet official in charge of investigating interrogees' complaints), who is subordinate to the State Prosecutor's Office. Friedmann promised to transfer a sampling of the files for external examination by the Justice Ministry.

And he kept his word. A team that included Deputy State Attorney Shuki Lemberger and the Mavtan, attorney Rachel Matar, examined six files from different years. State Prosecutor Eran Shendar sent a letter to Friedmann, reporting the results of the examination: "The conclusion reached by Lemberger and Matar is that nothing was found in even one of the files to change the final decision."

So is everything okay? Not necessarily. Shendar used very cautious wording, indicating a strong likelihood that there were things on the way to the final decision that certainly could be changed.

Indeed, Shendar's report continues, "Even so, Lemberger and Matar noted professional aspects of the examination that should be improved. They likewise recommended the allocation of additional manpower for examining these files. I intend to convene a meeting soon, in order to deliberate their recommendations."

This means that failings were found in the manner in which the complaints were examined; that there is a lack of manpower to check the complaints; and the failings are so significant that they require the direct intervention of the State Prosecutor's Office. Khenin is satisfied.

"I figure that the state prosecutor is saying there is a real problem," says Khenin. "This is a step forward on an issue that was unfortunately not handled properly."

Two and a half weeks ago the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee decided to recognize the Armenian genocide - that Turkey had perpetrated genocide against its Armenian population. The harsh Turkish response to this decision, and the pressure exerted by Turkey, resulted in the decision to not bring it before Congress for approval, and this worsened the crisis even more. The Knesset, it turns out, was a party to the pressure.

A week after the House Committee's decision, a meeting was held in Washington as part of the joint security dialogue between the U.S. Congress and the Knesset, led by Republican Senator John Kyle of Arizona and MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud). The MKs also met with the committee, and the representatives asked the Israelis what they thought of their decision; if they should continue with the process of recognizing the Armenian holocaust; and about the status of relations between Turkey and Israel.

Steinitz replied that cooperation between Israel and Turkey is very good. Regarding choosing between the issue of relations with Turkey and clarifying historical truth, Steinitz has no doubts as to which the Americans should favor.

"The massacres happened 90 years ago, during the Ottoman Period, but today there are only two Muslim countries that are partners in the war on terror, and who maintain joint efforts with the United States and Israel: Turkey and Jordan," Steinitz said. "Turkey deserves a commendation."

Steinitz added that Turkey made a suggestion that seems reasonable: to establish an international committee of historians, before whom both parties would open their archives.

Among the delegation of MKs was Meretz-Yahad Chair Yossi Beilin. When Beilin was deputy foreign minister in 1994, he told the Knesset plenum that what had happened was genocide; had aroused deep anger in Turkey; and had become the darling of the Armenians. Beilin also told the members of Congress that there is no doubt that there was a genocide. Still, he did not demand that they continue with the recognition process. Beilin noted that they have to consider the risk to relations with Turkey, as well as the fact that Israel has been drawn into this conflict.

The truth is that even before the Congressional committee's decision, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan met with Steinitz during a visit to Israel, and ask Steinitz's assistance in opposing the decision. Steinitz says that he mentioned this, of his own volition, to several congressmen. He believes that the Israeli position influenced the shelving of the committee's decision. The Armenian holocaust will have to wait for a time when Turkey's strategic importance declines.

One of the issues often discussed by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee is the delays in the implementation of the Law Protecting the Public from Sex Offenders. This is a new law stating that anyone convicted of a sex-related offense will be sent for a danger assessment, and if he is deemed a repeat offense risk, a supervision order will be issued and he will be subject to various restrictions.

Last week the committee received data on the restrictions imposed on sex offenders within the framework of this law. These restrictions included a ban on owning articles of clothing for minors (1 offender), on contacting minors (54 offenders), on bringing women into his house (1); on going to a ritual bath (1); and on entering online chat rooms (2).

Deputy Public Defender Dr. Hagit Lerner, who addressed the committee last Tuesday, believes that this is a very problematic law. She says that it violates the rules of the game - that once an offender has served his sentence he reverts to being a regular citizen. Among other things, Lerner argues that due to a lack of danger assessors, "assessments are sometimes on a very low level, and include factual mistakes." She says that in some cases, the assessors do not explain to the offenders what their rights are, nor how much their conversation with the assessor will affect their lives.

Lerner says that the more is invested in supervision, less is invested in rehabilitation. When the Law Protecting the Public from Sex Offenders was passed, it contained a section on rehabilitation, but this was removed, with the assurance that such rehabilitation would be legislated at the beginning of the current Knesset session. That did not happen. Lerner contends that, contrary to their public image, the chances that a sex offender will repeat his crime are lower than for drug and violence offenders. Lerner would issue supervision orders only against sex offenders with a high risk assessment.

Two weeks ago, the Knesset passed a law allowing courts to order the chemical castration of sex offenders. Last week a law was passed preventing all sex offenders from working with children.

"There is wide-ranging legislation surrounding sex offenders, but no such laws concerning murderers," says Lerner. "This is hysteric legislation that indicates social panic."